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Jef Geys and you


A conversation with a peer artist took place recently. He described a struggle in their artist run space, between those who advocate for socially oriented exhibitions and those who wish to work in a more “white cube” format. The “social” would therefore be an adversary of the “elitist white cube” if I understood the situation. I wouldn’t want to overshare or interpret too much this internal discussion, but it touched me, in all the youthfulness of such an antagonism, (formal vs social?) and brought back memories of youthful antagonistic thoughts on the exhibition of Jef Geys.


An older artist, couple generations away, conscious of the necessity to work with his community, has interventions-performance like activity, the daily experiences of people around him are part of it. Wonderful, I say as a younger artist, of course, one should do that if one can step out of their own studio space, particularly if one is a natural at it. The public will never judge too hard the post-performative documents – photos, notes etc. They do what they do, the worst thing that can happen is that you get slightly lost. Besides, one can always try to be compassionate and trust the “unknown” of what happened back in the days: it’s easy to imagine “good work” if one wants to. In the end, imagining “good work” in an art space is pretty close to experiencing it.


Another facet of his work is teaching and transforming this into visual experience addressing the “didactic”. Small seed packages become gigantic etc. = carnivalesque at core transformations, as an example. Wonderful, I say, of course, if one can survive through the walls of an educational institution and still be inspired, one must do such work. And there will be a certain aesthetic discomfort for the public, maybe even a limitation to such transformative work, no matter how much paint is used. “The didactic” brings back certain memories, and one can’t get away from that feeling of just wanting to leave school forever. But those are important tensions, and you could never accuse such artwork of irrelevancy. It is “social” and more so, part of the artist’s life, and not some three-month project inspired by a problematic subject around people having a difficult life somewhere else on the planet. So, regardless of your subjective experience, as a younger artist, you say, yes-yes, check.


And then, there is this different wall, with the earlier works related to painting, and it’s an overwhelming one. With all the “criticism and irony” it conveys, you find yourself spending a significantly longer time studying it, without EVER having to say to yourself “good-good, legit approach socially”. Damn it. That is when the antagonistic questions creep into your conscientious young artist head: will ever my “social” work attract such a long-lasting gaze as this “painting-history-related” “not-really-social” work? Should I worry about wanting to provoke this long-lasting gaze? Can my “social” work be relevant without this collateral problem of not being aesthetically satisfying?  And if it gets a bit physically attractive and, God-forbid, “white cuby”, does it remain “social”? Forgive me for this parallel, my peer art-space-runners, your struggle is surely not as grotesque as what I’ve just described. But could it be that Jef Geys explored something in those lines too?

Polina Akhmetzyanova


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