The starting point for thinking through this show is rust.
Quite simply, rust occurs when iron or its alloys (such as steel) corrode. This compound of rust (iron oxide or Fe2O3) is a result of the reaction of oxygen to moisture in the air. The process is slow and once complete renders the steel damaged, destroyed. These thoughts of rust as a metaphor for thinking through the city of Johannesburg are initiated by some artworks included in Geers’ latest show at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The exhibition, titled IN GOZI WE TRUST, includes thirty-two works spanning across painting, sculpture and works on paper; including rust on paper. The six works of rust on paper are depictions of figures that resemble masks (Wretched of the Earth) as well as patterns resembling wire and fencing (Age of Iron). Rust as a reminder of the perishability of things and life. But of course, corrosion and the gradual destruction of the city is both real and imagined, fast and slow —gentrification is happening at the same time as xenophobic attacks, at the same time that young Black kids are becoming first-generation property and business owners in the city, which is happening at the same time as the raping and killing of women and children. Oxygen and water; we’re breathing and drinking but we’re also corroding. In Gozi We Trust, In Jozi We Rust.
Wittgenstein’s Beetle 2733, 2018.
The title of the exhibition might translate to “In DANGER We Trust” or “In Jozi We Trust”. Fear and terror are continuous and normalised.
In thinking through this show it is the “we” of the title that I struggle with. By using the word “we”, Geers is implicating not only himself but at least one or more people, considered together. The first challenge with the “we” is whether a strong “we” is possible without a “them”. The second challenge is defining the bounds of “we”; where does it begin, who does it include and who does it exclude? Who is trusting, who is fearful and who is finding comfort? There are no easy resolutions to these questions.
Venus Blinds her Lover’s Shame, 2015.
In Gozi We Trust is a show about parallels —thinking of the different parts of the city side by side, pushing and pulling; the paranoia of danger against the very real threat of danger in the city. The gated fences and neighbourhoods against neighbourhoods neglected by the city administration. The “post-apartheidness” of certain spaces against the very segregated manner in which most residents continue to live their lives. Sandton, Alex, white masters, Black help, Maboneng, Jeppestown. A continuous tug of war between beauty and dissonance, love and hate, danger and safety, soul and machine.
Age of Iron XCIX, 2013.
I’m less interested in Geers’ positionality as a white man speaking about danger in the city, the legitimacy or lack thereof. I’m more interested in how the work makes us realise the overflowing collective misery we’re all a part of. The relationship that exists between us as inhabitants of this city and the dark fantasies tangled up in power, fear and helplessness we experience as we walk the streets. There’s an anxiousness that runs through the show—perhaps it is Geers’ own anxiety that we feel embodied in the works, perhaps it is our own anxiety in navigating and making sense of the complexities of the city; gold plated police batons, chains, 18-carat gold broken bottle, flowers that turn into bullets and bullets that turn into flowers; all conjure up layers of our darkest memories. Oxygen and water, the two components that help flowers to grow are also the two components necessary to form rust.
Flesh of the Spirit 201, 2016.