As part of his Visiting Artists Program lecture tonight at SAIC, Kendell Geers ushered his audience through his personal journey—just like most every other lecture delivered in the history of this program. Unlike all those other artists, however, Geers managed to bond particles of politics, language, culture, alchemy, tarot and mysticism, religion and ritual, and pataphysics. (You won’t be disappointed if you google the last term.)
Geers opened his lecture with a forewarning, the he must start by speaking as the archetypal Fool: innocent, trusting, and naïve. This aptly describes the young Geers, who was born into a working class and typically racist Afrikaner Boer family in Johannesburg. Geers was but a boy during the Soweto riots of 1976, and the rest of his life and artistic career have been dedicated recalibrating himself from violence of Apartheid. He ran away from home and army conscription at fifteen, and was a political refugee in the United States through 1989 till Mandela’s release in 1990, at which point he returned to Jo’Burg.
Upon his return Geers famously covered himself in blood taken from his own arm. He characterized Bloody Hell as a completely intuitive piece—what he needed to do in order to find or create a “new morality, new heritage.” His performance has clear ties to indigenous rituals related to blood cleansing (including some Congolese rites which he mentioned) as well as medieval Christian ideas and images related to the act of anointing.
No longer the Fool, Geers now sees himself as the conscious, cunning, dexterous Magician—a figure who exhibits masterful skill in linking the material and immaterial worlds. Living up to Sol Lewitt’s maxim that “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” Geers’s recent works attempt to merge several concepts that are likely preternatural to some. POSTPUNKPAGANPOP (2008), for example, forces viewers to encounter themselves in a mirrored floor while moving through several rooms constructed with sheets of South African-made, internationally used razor wire—a material that represents incarceration, prohibition, and violence. Geers believes that the mirrored floor joins two worlds, two realities: the first being the perpetual self-loathing reinforced by capitalism and never being good enough, and the second being a gateway into other, comingling realities.
Confused? Good. Go see Kendell Geers in conversation with Rhoda Rosen at Gallery 400 this Saturday, February 22nd, 2pm.