22 Aug FNB Joburg Art Fair: Kendell Geers
From an early age, Johannesburg-born conceptual artist Kendell Geers has been giving the finger to authoritarian power structures, be that his own family and heritage, the dominant ideology of South Africa pre-1994, or what institutions liked to call ‘art’. Over a career that has spanned more than two decades, Kendell has embraced the notion of art as opposite to logic and reason, and pushed the mystical possibilities of art to their limits through a radical practice based on subversion and re-appropriation. More recently, Kendell’s aesthetic framework is influenced by the post quantum physics theory of pataphysics, “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments”. Kendell shared some laconic insights into his art-making with us…
How did growing up in a volatile political environment propel you to find your expression as an artist?
Even before I was a teenager, I understood the role of politics in every aspect of life. The volatile nature of politics in South Africa prior to 1990 just made me more militant and suspicious of power.
Looking back, how has your aesthetic as well as your approach developed since you first started making art?
At this point in my life, I don’t know if art summoned me or the other way around. I have certainly come to the understanding that art is transformative and that without art we all die a slow painful death.
What are the dominant and recurring themes within your work?
Art can speak the unspeakable and express the ineffable. I have always sought that moment when the unimaginable becomes real, but at that moment just before it manifests. If any artist can reduce their work to a theme then they are not really an artist.
‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ was your first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in nearly a decade. It is also significant in that through it, you endeavoured to redefine your work and thinking processes in the eyes of South Africans. How did you go about doing so?
As soon as one forms a habit, then one begins to develop a crust that prevents one from experiencing true innocence. The role of the artist is to break that crust and the only way through the layers is to run in the opposite direction of the habit.
Why did you feel that sculpture was the best medium to root this exhibition in?
We are locked into three dimensions in ways that two dimensions cannot express. I use painting and drawing to embody my thoughts and sculpture to express my ideas.
Your practise also encompasses painting, drawing, photography, performance and installation. What do you enjoy about a multidisciplinary approach?
As soon as you think that you understand anything it’s time to try harder to penetrate the mysteries of being. Every medium can express unique subtleties that others cannot, so it’s important to match the message with the media.
It’s been noted that over the years your work has shifted from being strongly political in focus to become more poetic. Would you agree and, if so, what factors have influenced this transition?
I absolutely disagree – politics is just poetry without hope.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey as an artist so far? Alternately, what aspects of this have been the most challenging?
The greatest reward of art is knowing that art changes the world, one perception at a time. The challenge has been getting people to take the time to open their hearts.
Which works of yours will be shown at the FNB Joburg Art Fair this year? Is there anything you’d like to remark about these?
I will be exhibiting a martial art of pure transformation.
What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans going forward?
I have a solo exhibition opening in London in two weeks and will then focus all my energy on a solo exhibition scheduled to open in Cape Town in December. It will be a homage to my two favourite South African artists, Wopko Jensma and Walter Battiss.
All images supplied by the Goodman Gallery.