Belgian police riot helmets and shelves 300x460x40cm.
Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, and the Mark Vanmoerkerke and Edith De Ketelaere Collection, Belgium
Kendell Geers is an artist who “invented himself”. He changed his date of birth to May 1968, as a mark of solidarity with the student riots in Paris and the revolutionary work of the artists’ group “Situationist International”, led by Guy Debord. He also changed his name and vowed to stop speaking the Afrikaans language (one of the two official languages of the apartheid regime, originating in Holland, where Geers’ family originate). After publicly refusing to serve in the South African army during apartheid, he was forced to leave his homeland to avoid serving a six year prison sentence. He returned to South Africa following Nelson Mandela’s release.
Geers is not interested in depicting shock tactics, but rather in using them. He likes to provoke riots with his work and to shock arrogant institutions. He participated in the Venice Biennale of 1993, the first time since 1968 that South African artists were invited to exhibit.
For a number of group exhibits Geers entered an electrified fence with a current of 6000 volts and only a small warning notice. At another show he exhibited fragments of gallery windows, which he had shattered by using a brick. A few hours after the Johannesburg massacre of several taxi passengers, killed by a man who first demanded to know from them what their party of choice was, Geers joined every extant party in South Africa in protest and exhibited his nine different party membership cards.
In the piece “Harvest Time”, 2005, Geers creates apparently simple situations, but what is visible to the eye is far removed from what is actually present. His work operates as a crime scene, with visitors trying to reconstruct what happened there and then work out how they themselves are involved in the event. Through this process the visitor is obliged to lend the work a meaning himself and to raise moral questions regarding his relationship to it.
Therefore one cannot comprehend Geers’ work as limited to the South African context, and must regard it in the broader contexts of the use of power, violence, oppression and social control, and in relation to the collapse of the ideological systems which underpin those phenomena.