Punks and riots: Kendell Geers, South African conceptual artist, currently living and working in Brussels, in conversation with Maria Abramenko talking visions, exorcism, moral ambiguity and his musical past with Front 242.
I remember you were involved in two music projects back in the days, could you tell us the story of both?
Music has always been a big part of my life. During the Apartheid era it was bands like Swans, Throbbing Gristle, Laibach, Skinny Puppy, Young Gods, 23 Skidoo and SPK that kept me sane. Eventually in 1986 I was part of an Afrikaans Punk band that was something between DAF and Einstürzende Neubauten. In 2003 I began collaborating with Partick Codenys from Front 242 experimenting with ritual, sound and video in full body exorcisms.
In your “Bloody Hell” performance, I am curious how you were using your blood and how you were “extracting” it?
I created that ritual in Ghandi’s old house which had fallen into ruin and a couple of friends were squatting there. I had just returned to Johannesburg for Mandela’s release. Apartheid was over and everything I was taught by my family, school, government and church was a crime against humanity. Everything I was bred to become, my language and culture (Afrikaans) were illegitimate. I was 23 years old and I decided to give birth to myself, to create my own personal language, identity, morality and faith. I bathed myself in my own blood, the blood of my ancestors, baptising myself into a Bloody Hell.
I have read you are against calling your art political, why and how would you explain that? How would you describe your art?
The problem with announcing your politics is that the audience either agrees or disagrees and so nothing changes.
Instead of preaching from a moral high ground, I prefer to hurl myself into the abyss and invite my audience into the contradictory zone of moral ambiguity which invites discussion and dissent. Instead of using art to illustrate what I think and believe, I prefer the generosity of inviting the viewer to confront what they think and believe because healing always begins with a fever. If I could put my art into words I would stop making art.
If it can be said it should not be created I see a strong connection with esoterism in your practice, what does it mean to you and how do you reenact it in your art?
Ever since I was a child I had visions. At first I was tormented by them and tried to deny them. My father even had me exorcised. Once I learned to accept my visions as something divine they opened up to even more intense experiences which guide my journey as an artist.
Your conceptual show in Paris was quite unusual, how was it born and how did it evolve?
The show is called “Flesh of the Spirit” because it is about spiritualising matter and materialising spirit. There are a lot of masks and mirrors begging the question about healing in the wake of the pandemic. The mask is just like a border that certainly protects us, but at the same time it also imprisons us.
What are you working at, at the moment?
I am working on maintaining my sanity as things fall apart.