San Gimignano

Kendell Geers

With thirteen installations and sculptures—most but not all executed for the occasion—and twelve photographs, South African artist Kendell Geers addressed the theme of power and the ambiguous boundary separating individual and collective responsibility. The show's title, “Mondo Kane,” is also that of a piece from 2002 consisting of a cement cube entirely covered with pieces of glass, evoking control and enclosure. The form symbolizes the “white cube ”exhibition venue, and the punning title, which conflates the name of the 1962 Italian “shockumentary” Mondo Cane (meaning “beastly world”) with Citizen Kane, interweaves references to other systems of domination. Moreover, unfolding the sides of a cube, one obtains a cross, that central cultural symbol. And indeed, one room in the gallery contained a wooden crucifix, T.W.-(I.N.R.I.), 1995-2002, covered with the red and white plastic stripes normally used to indicate roadwork in progress. The image has great force; here, danger and protection merge in the idea of faith. And how can a white South African forget that it was under the sign of the cross that Europeans colonized most of the world?

A nearby wall held Evil:Live, 2001, consisting of its title written in white on a black background and presenting a contrast and union that are not easily disentangled. In Fingered (San Gimignano), 1999-2002, Geers delineates a metaphor for social control. Its glass shelves hold glasses used during various art openings bearing the fingerprints of those who have drunk from them. The fingerprints of people from San Gimignano were the latest to be collected in this way, as a sign of the participation of nonexperts who also leave their mark on art. Orpheus in file, 2002, is a room made from wooden planks, with a sealed door (though one can glimpse a light through the cracks). The effect is one of confined intimacy that has no need of explanation. Deep Throat, 2002, features a projection of the canonical porn film on a mirrored disco ball that distorts, magnifies, and refracts the imagery to create a more oblique discourse on sexuality. The Garden of Forking Paths I and II, both 2000, photographs of a permanent installation the artist created in Japan that year, reflect on the relationship between history and aggression. Geers constructed a labyrinth with screens surmounted by razor wire, which is said to be a particularly effective human deterrent: In South Africa it was used to defend property and fortify prisons against those who wished to exit the “labyrinth,” while normal twisted barbed wire, being less “persuasive,” was used to keep back animals. At the base of the screens the artist planted ivy, which will grow to cover the wire. Can one risk forgetting what's hidden beneath the ornamental vine? Geers's background would indicate he has experienced racism from the inside. but he aims to investigate its origins, still hidden by the ivy of history.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.