Kendell Geers “OrnAMENtundVERBrechen”

KENDELL GEERS – “OrnAMENtundVERBrechen” (Artist Statement)

European by descent, African by birth, Kendell Geers defines himself as both animist and mystic, shaman and alchemist, punk and poet. Committed to the fight against Apartheid from a very young age, Geers used his experience as a revolutionary activist to develop a psycho-socio-political approach in which ethics and aesthetics are viewed as two sides of the same coin spinning on the giant table of history. In his hands, the vast narrative of art is brought into question, the languages of power and ideological codes are disrupted, expectations dashed, and systems of belief are transformed into aesthetic cannon fodder. The contradictions that are intrinsic to the artist’s identity are embodied in his work. His pieces combine personal with political, poetry with misery, violence with erotic tension.

Following his 2013 retrospective curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Haus de Kunst in Munich, Geers shifted his practice from Conceptual political realism and began to paint. The resulting paintings are a protest against the industrial aesthetics of faux conceptualism because it became too easy to drag any found object, bland text or empty signifier into the white cube and call it art. Conceptual art is the Naked Emperor that defines itself by its own market driven definition. For Geers, the most Avant Garde and radical medium for ab artist today is Post-Conceptual Painting.

The exhibition’s title OrnAMENtundVERBrechen” is based on the 1908 essay “Ornament und Verbrechen” (Ornament and Crimeby Austrian architect Adolf Loos, pioneer of modern architecture who condemned the decorations on the façades of buildings as a useless, even dangerous excess, steering the course of architecture towards the concept of functionality. Geers responds to Loos’ challenge by interrogating the languages of Minimalism and the model of gallery white cube by throwing aesthetics against the brick wall of experience with shards of broken ethics. The essay marked the moment when the ornamental organic lines of nature gave way to the linear compositional structures of culture, marking the shift from Art Nouveau to Art Deco and eventually from Bauhaus via Formalism into Minimalism and finally Conceptual Art. The rise of abstraction was not only an aesthetic detachment from nature but also a spiritual dissolution and Geers believes that the “Crime” today is the decorative “Ornament” of words that have lost their tether to meaningful consequence.

A linguistic trickster and iconoclast Geers twists words and interrogates language on the rack of raw experience. He breaks open the words Ornament und Verbrechen into Orn AMEN Tund VERB Rechen raking meaning like dry leaves in a cemetery. Geers explains that the acceleration of politics that began with President Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated through the Covid pandemic into the Russian invasion of Ukraine and marks the death of language as we know it. The simultaneous rise of Social Media gave every person a voice that then drowned out every voice in vast oceans of unbridled opinion. Language is now truly lost in translation as words drift away from their anchor to meaning and truth gets sold to the highest bidder.

The letters “Orn AMEN Tund VERB Rechen” are stenciled across Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” making the point that language itself is the new sublime. Where the Romantic artists and poets found inspiration in the overpowering turbulence of the natural world, Geers feels lost in the vertiginous incommensurability of meaning today. With the rise of Fake News and Social Media words neither console our spirit nor are they adequate to express the horrors of experience today. Edmond Burke defined the sublime as “that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror” and “terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime.” In today’s context, the sublime is the failure of language to express the truth.

This collapse of meaning is not limited to language in the form of words, but all cultural expression including Art History. The very definitions of art as we understood them has been are no longer of any consequence as fashion and design merge and blend with street culture and luxury branding. For this reason Geers interrogates our Art Historical canons with the same black humour as he breaks down words with contra-diction. Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Sol LeWitt, Matisse, Picasso and Marcel Duchamp are all culturally upcycled and aesthetically repurposed. The artist flips the Dutch art historical language upon its head with a Post-Colonialtwist and the cut flowers are re-framed against the backdrop of climate change and the proliferation of borders and rise of socialmedia boundaries. He believes that the cut flowers of the classic Still Life painting tradition might be the most precise symbol of our times because the flowers have been severed from their roots and are both still alive and also dying at the same time. Their beauty is also the reason why they are dying.

“Coining the term AniMystikAKtivist to describe his confrontational approach, Geers combines socio-political activism with animism, mysticism and dark humour to examine the complex relationship between his native Africa and Europe, the home of his ancestors. Since the 1980s, his acerbic works have tackled issues of identity, racism, violence and social justice, reflecting his disgust at the abusive apartheid regime he witnessed in his youth. Addressing his identity as a white South African, this sculpture comprises broken Heineken beer bottles hanging from a replica of Bottle Rack, 1914 – an early readymade by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) – in reference to Geers’ 17th Century origins in the Netherlands (where Heineken is produced and exported). The jagged glass speaks to the violence his colonial ancestry fomented in Africa and also his own broken sense of self-identity. Employing the term ‘Lost Object’ to oppose Duchamp’s ‘Found Object’, Geers likens the French artist’s erasure of history and context in his readymades to the colonisers’ disregard for indigenous history and culture – a scathing critique of colonialism and the art establishment.” (African Artists: From 1882 to Now, Phaidon)

OrnAMENtundVERBrechen” is a call to arms, but instead of bullets, love, like art, is a weapon of transformation because “Art Changes the World – One Perception at a Time”

Kendell Geers believes art should be both political and spiritual, expressing the raw energy of a punk attitude with the visceral visionary philosophy of poets like Rimbaud, Blake and Burroughs in a lethal cocktail of unexpected contrasts. In protest against the materialism of our age ruled by economic prejudice and political expedience, he proposes an art of spiritual transformation because he believes that Art holds the key to the difficult questions of healing.

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