Kendell Geers, Following the Blind Man
The following discussion with the internationally acclaimed South African artist Kendell Geers is the result of a series of emails exchanged between him and myself during May and June of 2015.
The starting point of this correspondence were two lectures that Kendell Geers had given a year earlier, the one in April 2014 at INSERT, New Delhi, titled “Marcel Duchamp, Silent Animist” and the other in June 2014 at Luminato Festival, Canada, titled “Following the Blind Man / Marcel Duchamp and the Voodoun Connection”.
Both lectures’ s subject was the most enigmatic and controversial artist of modern art and a key figure in Kendell Geers’s oeuvre, Marcel Duchamp.
Geers’ s obsession with Marcel Duchamp does not come as a surprise for those familiar with his work; Duchamp is the person whom he “loves to hate”. However, the perspectives by which he challenges us to approach and evaluate Duchamp’s work and life shake us as they lead us out of the comfort zone of modern art history’s prevailed narratives. Geers’s theory is a fascinating journey through art, time and space and far beyond our perceived reality, beyond logic.
In his own words: “I shall add one more interpretation and invent another way of seeing the old man of history as a shaman. In part historical, in part fantasy, in part channeling the spirit of Duchamp himself, a lecture, a performance, a fantasy and an other way of seeing his story”.
E.Z. At the 12th of June 2014, you gave a lecture at Copycat Academy in Canada titled “Following the Blind Man – Marcel Duchamp and the Voodoo Connection”. Before discussing further key parts of your speech could you talk about why choosing Marcel Duchamp and what was the main idea that you presented at that speech?
It is impossible for any living artist today to get around the question of Marcel Duchamp. He cursed us with his “Readymade” concept and opened the doors to a dark abyss of opportunism that allowed all manner of demons to muddy the waters of contemporary art. Whilst I do respect him, I am certainly not in awe and I am in two minds about his contribution to art history. He is the mythological father that has to be killed and the only way to do that is to catch up with him. I was given the wonderful invitation of making a lecture, first in India, then in Philadelphia and finally in Toronto, so I set my mind to the task of getting three decades of research into a straight line and the result is the three and a half hours of me “Following the Blind Man”.
E.Z. When talking about objects of art at your lecture you give the example of the two African masks: the one ‘baptized’ and used in rituals etc., getting a patina and the other transferred and exhibited by its construction in a European museum. You name the first an object of art and the second a curiosity. Here you talk about the ‘Readymade’ concept as the curse that Duchamp left upon us. Do you consider Duchamp’s Readymades works of art or curiosities?
When I urinated in Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” in 1993 I transformed it from a cold curiosity into a fully patinated work of art.
E.Z. At the beginning, you set the tone, the spirit of your talk by mentioning a number of alarming incidences or coincidences that took place prior to this talk and on the other hand that you have to kick out of the room the three ‘wise monkeys’: Rene Descartes, Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. Could you explain this further?
If nothing else, I have come to the conclusion that what we call reality is more than 5 senses and 3 dimensions. If we are to understand the power of art we cannot think in a linear way so we have to kick Descartes out of the room. We cannot presuppose that we are smarter than all our ancestors with an evolutionary prejudice so we have to kick out Darwin. Finally, there are many things that go bump in the night that cannot be explained by the laws of physics so out goes Newton.
E.Z. Within this context you have just described, what is the power of art you are referring to? Furthermore, where do you position the artists? I mean, were/are they just the illustrators, the recorders of one ‘beyond human senses and logic’ reality as perceived by a few charismatic and enlightened commissioners, working secretly in their service?
The power of art is to change the world, one perception at a time. Artists are the only social creature with the ability to move from the top to the bottom of the social spectrum, to dine with kings and queens, the richest and most powerful people in the world and at the same time with pimps and paupers, all without compromise. True artists can reach within themselves and open what Blake calls the “doors of perception” to see other worlds and other ways of being. The artist should never be an illustrator or a recorder, but remain always a creator, spiritualizing matter and materializing spirit.
E.Z. Was Duchamp a true artist? He still has an enormous power over people…
The power that Duchamp has over people is nothing more than the permission to think that you are smart because you can go shopping to find objects.
E.Z. A vast number of theories have been developed in order to shed light to the provocative and enigmatic work of Marcel Duchamp. What is the new theory or the different perspective/approach for the analysis of his work that you propose?
Marcel Duchamp was a magician more than he was an artist. Not a carnival entertainer, but a black magician in the tradition of Faust.
E.Z. What were the parts, the signs from Duchamp’s life and oeuvre that made you skeptical at first about him and urged you into this deep research the outcome of which is the ascertainment that he was a magician more than he was an artist?
He was a liar. He told the world that he gave up making art to play chess. The truth was that he gave up chess to make art. The sign of a magician is one who says look left when he is paying all his attention somewhere else.
E.Z. At your speech you delve into the history of art starting with cave art and you make one important observation: that spiritual insight and sexuality were closely related in the past and that this relation was imprinted and revealed through art. However at some point art was censored and ‘desexualized’ by religion, art historians and museums that interpreted it according to their intentions, ethics and versions of truth.
What do you believe motivated this censorship?
Anything that in forbidden is dangerous and therefor interesting. We have an innate ability to protect ourselves, an instinct that makes survival a common sense. We are not going to cross the road in front of an oncoming bus and for that reason buses are not forbidden. Nobody needs to make it a law that we should not eat arsenic. Quite the contrary, we are living in an age when fashion invites us to consume obscene amounts of sugar that is literally killing us. Cigarettes and sugar are not banned. Nor is false advertising. When thongs do get banned, it is always a red flag and I wonder what the truth is. Sex is the most powerful and natural force of nature and banning it is like banning your left foot. So what I do is follow the signs from the taboo all the way back to its origin in order to understand what is really going on
E.Z. “Anything that in forbidden is dangerous’ – dangerous for whom?
Does the Synarchy theory you mention at the end of your speech has anything to do with this situation?
The only things that are dangerous are those beyond our control and they are dangerous for those who have power. The danger exists only for those at the top of the hierarchy that is the Synarchists trying to control us.
E.Z. Have you discovered that Duchamp was actually a member of a Synarchy Movement?
I believe that I address that exact question in the three hour long lecture performance.
Kendell Geers, Tu Marcellus Eris (Following the Blind Man), New Dehli, 31 January 2014
Kendell Geers pt. 1&2: Following the Blind Man (Marcel Duchamp and the Voodoun Connection)
Lecture at Copycat Academy 2014
Documentation: Alex Gerassimov
A project by Hannah Hurtzig for Luminato Festival, Toronto, Canada
Kendell Geers, http://kendellgeers.com/labyrinth