‘Fragile Monuments’, Kendell Geers
HS Projects presented a series of works by internationally acclaimed artist Kendell Geers as part of the 5 Howick Place Exhibition Programme that also featured in the group exhibition ‘Paradigm Store’. Geers was born in South Africa and now lives and works in Brussels. At the 1993 Venice Biennial he officially changed his date of birth to May 1968, a momentous year in world history for human liberation and equality.
Geers creates work that aims to disrupt commonly accepted moral codes and principles. Employing a wide range of references— from the realms of history of art, iconography and kitsch— Geers questions artistic value and mocks the notion of originality. His work reveals razor-sharp humour that plays with the viewer’s repulsion and ridicules racial or religious stereotypes. Laden with complex and deep political implications, it is challenging and confrontational, while at the same time, Geers’ minimalist aesthetics generate a subtle poetic undertone. His use of language, ready-mades, neon, glass, icons, film, chevron tape and other objects confront the viewer head on. They often startle the eye and require a degree of interrogation from the spectator.
‘Obelisk’, 2008 is a unique and free-standing sculpture by Kendell Geers, seen here in the UK for the first time. Taking the form of this triumphal sculpture, the work is a quadrangular shaft made from cast cement embedded with broken green glass bottles. Monolithic and tapering, the elegant form is reminiscent of historic and public statuary. Here, however, the entire form and even its pyramidal apex is encrusted with shimmering fragments of glass lending the form both an alluring and menacing quality. Historically the Obelisk is a symbolic marker of exchange between Nation States, celebrating alliances between different cultures. By inserting green glass into the concrete obelisk, Geers transforms this gesture of benevolence into a complex and barbed realisation of exchange, suggesting an underlying truth about the difficulties and embedded prejudices between cultures.
In ‘Monument to the F-Word XI’, 2010, seen here in the UK for the first time, Geers reconfigures the provocative word into a three dimensional sculpture carved from one solid block of highly polished bronze. The work gently nods to the form of Constantin Brâncuși’s bronze ‘Bird in Flight’ which depicts the elegance of a swooping bird. The work also recalls Brâncuși’s ‘Endless Monument’ in reference to public monuments as cultural symbols of history and international relations. Here, Geers depicts the monument in the suggestive form of a bullet or a modern missile which alludes to notions of conflict and relates to displacement and immigration; a subject of tenacious relevance in world affairs and culture. The idea of flight and of movement is reinforced by the way the work balances freely upwards. Geers has purposefully kept the meaning of the ‘F’ word open as language becomes abstracted and transformed. Here, the ‘F Word’ hangs in flux suggesting a dialogue concerning the permanence and impermanence of meaning.
In ‘Brawl I’ 2009 and ‘Brawl II, 2009, Kendell Geers instigates a powerful and confrontational dialogue with ‘readymade’ icon and Dadaist great, Marcel Duchamp. The works form part of a series of sculptures consisting of sheets of bullet-proof glass that have been shot at with a rifle. In a contemporary renewal of Duchamp aesthetic, the beautiful delicacy of the shattered panes provides a rich juxtaposition with the violent act that created them. Here, the physical properties of the materials have been pushed to their very limit, creating a work that resonates with a powerful sense of the corporeal. Neither homage nor naïve appropriation, the ‘Brawl’ works demand that the viewer reassess pre-conceived notions of the ‘authentic’ – both in the art world and in wider political spheres.
Kendell Geers’ sculptural series ’T.O.T.I’, 2005 and ‘Twilight of the Idols’, 2009 are iconic found object figures wrapped in red and white hazard tape. Here Geers’ aims to alert us to the ways in which we consume images and the meanings of cultural icons and symbols. Iconic figures such as Christ and Buddha are bound in chevron tape, turning their aura on its head and transforming them into fallen heroes for the late capitalist era. Like many of Geers’ sculptures, these too function as embodiments of an ideological structure. Here bound, gagged and packaged, the traditional meaning of the holy icons seems to have collapsed. A question hangs in the air: what do these icons really mean today?
‘Fragile Monuments’ was at Howick Place from September 2014 – March 2015.