By blowing up museum walls and burning down public monuments, Kendell Geers made a name for himself as an ‘’aesthetic terrorist’’. He has disrupted the art world through such strategies as hurling bricks through a nationally declared heritage building, The Old Market complex in Newtown; urinating in Marcel Duchamp’s ‘’Fountain’’, the famous found object; and framing his own semen. His works are powerful environments of terror and violence, eroticism and poetics. Yellow Christ is no exception.
Written across three divergent images of a pistol, the profile of a woman, and a prostrated figure, all spliced together in a haphazard way, is the word ‘’BREATHLESS’’. The seemingly arbitrariness of this composition is obviated when one thinks of the maverick French film maker, Jean-Luc Goddard, who titled one of his films, A Bout de Souffle (translated as Breathless), which he wrote and directed in 1959. Goddard famously said: ‘’All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun’’. Sex and violence often go hand in hand, certainly in the popular imagination, and eagerly generated by the mass media.
In tune with his various acts of art terrorism, Geers harnesses this word and these images to invoke more than a mere narrative, but also a vague sense of dissent. Breathless signals both a form of anticipation as well as a literal state of being dead. The body on the right, incidentally, references Andrea Mantegna’s famous work, The Dead Christ, painted in 1501. Yellow Christ gives an ironic twist to Mantegna’s study of a cadaver, strongly foreshortened, by giving the iconic image a veritable pop art flavour.
Geers employs explicit references to the main stream mass media, such as film, to demonstrate that sex and violence are everyday forms of political dissent. Says Geers, ‘’The mainstream [media] has stolen every weapon of the underground, from sex to violence and art has been reduced to simply another commodity designer fetish. What can one do today outside of total despair and capitulation? [...] Instead of working towards the seamless, perfect image, I am trying to explore flaws, dirt, disruption, static white noise, and decomposition of the image or object. This fracturing both affirms the perfect image through its absence, and shifts the focus to other ways of understanding reality, on the other side of the comfort boarder. The sex and violence I use in my work and am interested in, and that I think remain effective weapons against bland consumerism, are not the sanitized clean poses of CNN but the dirty, gritty, white noise of a television set tuned to a bankrupt pirate station.’’1
1. Interview with Jerome Sans, transcribed by Lobke van Speybroeck 2007 Irrespectiv: Kendell Geers. Bom Publishers, Barcelona. Page 99.
Institute of Contemporary Art, Newtown, Aids: The Exhibition, 1992.
Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, Johannesburg, Prints and Multiples, 6 February 2003 to 29 March 2003, catalogue number 3.
Warren Siebrits. (2003) Prints Multiples Literary Magazines and Posters, Johannesburg: Ex Libris Press. Illustrated in colour on page 14.