Orphaned objects – Eastgate Gates in Gloucester. Help to give them their story back

The local newspaper – The Gloucester Citizen, ran a story last week about the Eastgate Gates. The original market was established in 1786 but in 1969 they were removed.

It caught my eye because I am currently doing some research about The Story of Objects – an exploration into how we form emotional attachments to objects and how those attachments can enhance our understanding of personal relationships and connection between people and places.

Today BBC Radio Gloucester (Mark Cummings) delivered a small feature, on which Jason Smith of Marketing Gloucester, Jason Robinson of the Eastgate Centre and I talked about the gates.  A lot of suggestions about relocating the gates, refurbishment and emotional attachment and belonging.

I talked mostly about the social history of orphaned objects, which relates closely to my Story of Objects research. I have a Facebook page for Story of Objects and will post some images on there too. I’d love to hear more about these gates – where they were made (18th century!), who by, who designed them, who installed them. More recently, in 1969 – when they were removed from their home in the Market – who deinstalled them? Does anyone have a story to share about that?

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I have been thinking about this desire for the city to seemingly re-absorb the gates unaltered – to reinstate the past and slip it into the present as a marker of time and place and belonging. And I wonder whether we should look more carefully at this approach – might it be more interesting (and no doubt more challenging) to consider commissioning a contemporary artist to re-purpose the gates? To upcycle materials and memories?

Ai Wei Wei has done this on many occasions – bringing historical Chinese items of furniture into the now (Documenta) and linking them with their social history.

Ai has selected 45 Fairytale-1001 Chairs and has conceived an installation of nine rows of five chairs in the nave. Spaced so that each chair is solitary, they give heightened awareness of the collective and the individual. The chairs date from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) and in this context challenge the class and ritual functions of such furniture, which originally was the preserve of privilege. In the stillness of the chapel, visitors are invited to take a seat and consider freedom, refuge, sanctuary and their antonyms, and to reflect on who may have sat before them, both on the chairs in China and within the 270-year-old Bretton Estate chapel. Through this simple act of participation, histories and cultures meet in a contemplative environment. As the artist has said, “those chairs are part of the fairytale – a symbolic gesture about memory and our past”.

Theaster Gates (sorry, this is not an intentional pun), again at Documenta, repurposed the Huguenots building in Kassel.

…restoring and reactivating the historic Huguenot House in Kassel. Once the restoration is completed, the house will be turned into a meeting place and location of varied performative and social events.

Both artist are internationally renowned, making serious work that really unpicks history and culture. Both Bristol and Cardiff (only an hour or so away from Gloucester) have had the ambition to commission Theaster Gates – could Gloucester maybe up the anti – do something similar? Why not go for a really substantial artist for the city? Art works on all levels, locally and globally.

Gloucester is the county town of Gloucestershire – it featured in a slideshow by the LEP – at the end – the slideshow began with Cheltenham and then went to the Cotswolds. Why has Gloucester been downgraded? What can be done to boost the profile?

I believe a bit of risk taking could be brilliant!

Meanwhile, while we ponder these things, do please get in touch with me if you have any stories to share about the Eastgate Gates – I’d love to hear them.


Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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