Rendering of The American Manifest, Moving Chains on Governors Island courtesy of TOLO Architecture
The American Manifest, Moving Chains
The Hills - The Hills - Outlook Hill
Tracing the flow of these northeastern waterways — the historically charged rivers and ports of New York City and Cincinnati’s Ohio River, which are not often considered in relation to each other — Gaines offers a multifaceted interrogation of the dual role of the northern states in both maintaining and abolishing slavery, and the enduring implications of the racialized systems, myths, and logics that underpin the nation’s economic and legal foundations that persist today. Through large-scale sonic and sculptural works, the project grapples with the entangled systems of property, citizenship, displacement, and freedom that enables and furthers racial capitalism, a mechanism for enforcing white supremacy in the United States of America. Gaines’s work for The American Manifest originates with the 1857 Dred and Harriet Scott historic Supreme Court decision, which decreed that people of African ancestry were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue for their right to freedom, and demands the viewer contend with the legacies and afterlives of chattel slavery, Manifest Destiny, and colonialism.
Sited within two key cities whose histories have shaped the identity of America, this project invites the public to consider New York and Cincinnati’s waterways’ in both upholding slavery and securing liberation, a duality that challenges reductive narratives of the history and legacy of slavery in America. Times Square, often called “the crossroads of the world,” exists as a global emblem of capitalism, commerce, and media, with over 300,000 daily pedestrians. Five miles away, in the middle of the New York Harbor, Governors Island feels comparatively serene. The Island played an integral role in the city’s economic and political history; it served as a Lenape fishing and hunting camp, an early colonial Dutch settlement, a home for the British ruling Governors and, later, a U.S. Military and Coast Guard base from the Revolutionary War until the late 1990s, before becoming publicly accessible in the mid-2000s. Halfway across the country, Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park connects downtown Cincinnati to the Ohio River, which historically served as a demarcation point and transportation route between southern slave states and the free states in the north.
Times Square, New York | July 13 – September 23, 2022
Broadway and 46th St, Duffy Square
The project originates in Times Square with a performance-based installation, Manifestos 4: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision, and sculptural installation, Roots.
Continuing Gaines’s Manifestos series, and specifically building upon his Manifestos 4 composition with the creation of a new vocal arrangement, this performance transforms the original text of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred and Harriet Scott historic decision, which decreed that people of African ancestry were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue for their right to freedom. Featuring a woodwind quintet, piano and tenor, the 5‑part performance was staged on July 13 and July 14 in Times Square.
Roots, on view from July 13 through September 23, 2022, consists of a series of seven American Sweetgum trees, presented with the root systems upside down and painted to a surreal and dystopic effect. The trees, which were indigenous to the eastern United States and grew in Times Square, a forested area and beaver pond prior to colonization, are known for their impressive root systems that require vast open spaces to grow.
Free public art tours every Thursday! Meet at Roots in Duffy Square at 2pm.
Governors Island, New York | October 2022 – June 2023
Sited at the base of Outlook Hill on Governors Island with views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Lower Manhattan, Moving Chains — a 100 foot-long immersive, kinetic sculpture — evokes the hull of a ship reverberating with the low rumble of nine chains churning overhead, while visitors pass through below. Eight of the chains move along at the pace of New York Harbor’s currents, while a central ninth chain moves noticeably faster, at the speed of the ships and barges that have traveled the city’s waterways over centuries. Complicating narratives of slavery that easily demarcate northern virtue and southern sin, Moving Chains illuminates the exchange of people, capital, and goods between the north and south, calling attention to the nation’s economic, judicial, and political frameworks that continue to shape the lives and define the freedoms of Americans today.
The project will be accompanied by a series of public programs that re-consider legal and cultural definitions of freedom, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of thinkers.
Cincinnati, Ohio | Summer 2023
Opening in multiple locations throughout Cincinnati in Summer 2023, The American Manifest will travel to the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park, accompanied by an additional site-specific commissioned work to deepen the geographic nuances of colonial expansion. The Ohio River has historically represented both a route to liberation, as the one-time gateway between slave and “free soil” states, as well as a historic route used to transport enslaved persons to the infamous port of New Orleans. The project’s journey to this location from New York makes a final connection between the plantation logic of people as property, federally recognized in the case of Dred and Harriet Scott, and the era of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, which established the American West landscape as the rightful property of the United States government.
Charles Gaines: The American Manifest is made possible in New York and Cincinnati by the visionary support of the Ford Foundation, Lambent Foundation, VIA Art Fund, FotoFocus, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Charina Endowment Fund, Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, Morgan Stanley, and mediaThe Foundation, inc.
Major support is provided by Hauser & Wirth, Jacob and Deborah Kotzubei, Bob and Renee Parsons, Sanjeev Rathi, Christopher Walker, Debi and Steven Wisch, and Anonymous.
We are also grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Arts; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and the New York State Council on the Artswith the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.
Getting to The Hills
See below for past programs and events on Governors Island.