Black Panther Manifesto (1966) by Charles Gaines

It seems to be a feature of art that it comes to you sometimes just as the times demand.

For this week’s Little Star Weekly we were fortunate to have the work of Charles Gaines, conceptual artist and long-time teacher at the California Institute of the Arts.  We drew from his 2008 installation “Manifestos.” Like much of his recent work, “Manifestos” is based on texts, in this case the twentieth-century revolutionary manifestos of the International Socialist Congress, the Situationist International, the Black Panther Party, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. In the installation, a scrolling text of each statement is accompanied by a musical composition based on the text according to a fixed formula: the letters A through G are represented by their corresponding notes, the letter H is assigned B-flat (following an antique baroque nomenclature), and all other letters and the spaces between words become rests. The resulting melody was scored by composer-arranger Charles Griffin for piano quintet. Gaines elaborates: “The chords [in the piece] are realized by taking the first letter in a word that is translatable into music and making a major chord out of that, or its inversion. So that the piece moves in time by playing the major chord of one note and then the inversion of the major chord in another note and the major chord in the next note, so this repetition of major chord and inversion becomes an anchoring part of the work. It is responsible for the elegiac and highly romantic quality of the music.” The score itself also appears in the installation as a delicate pencil drawing.

Says Gaines of the whole:  “It is important to me that the drawings and the videos are always seen in the same place, because you can actually follow how the piece is produced, if you took the time, that is, you can hear and see the relationship of notes to letters.” We encourage readers to try to invoke for themselves the whole experience (pictured below at Kent Fine Art in 2008).  You can read more about it in the L. A. Times or, better yet, hear Mr. Gaines himself describe it in a lecture at the Hammer Museum. Toward the end the lecture Mr. Gaines shows two of the musical compositions concurrently with their scrolling texts.

The lecture, which Mr. Gaines delivered at the time of the 2011 uprisings in Egypt, prompted him to observe that political narratives, narratives about the liberation of particular people in a particular time, can be seen by their recurrence in human history to have the sort of universal character that is the object of art, that the Egyptians still carry the ideas embraced by a centuries-old political document “around in their hearts.”

Charles Gaines’s latest show, “Charles Gaines:  Notes on Social Change” runs at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York from September 7 through October 19.




“Manifestos” at the Kent Fine Art, New York City, October 20 – December 20, 2008
(“Manifestos” first appeared as part of the exhibition “All of This and Nothing” at the Hammer Museum, UCLA. Thanks to the Hammer Museum and the artist for permission to reproduce from “Black Power (1966)” in Little Star Weekly.)


We are tremendously grateful, this week and every week, to the curator of Little Star Weekly’s Gallery, Mary Weatherford, for bringing us “Manifestos” among many other revelatory works of art!









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