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Geczy, Adam (AU)

2008. crox 282, Buried Alive. Video-presentatie. Laatste project in de video-room voor TVF art doc cinema er permanent onderdak vindt.
Toasting To The World Food Crisis With A Bottle Of Dom Perignon, performance. -->Dom Perignon

2010. crox 335, Remember To Forget The Congo. Performance. voyageaucongo.blogspot.com en livestream video. Performance van zaterdag 1 tot woensdag 5 mei. Presentatie van wat het werd van 6 tot 30 mei. Geczy ging er aanvankelijk van uit dat hij de complete tekst van Voyage au Congo van André Gide op de muur zou aanbrengen. Het plan was: muren zwart schilderen tot 2m50 hoog. Alle muren in de zaal achterin; de schuifdeur valt buiten het parcours. Om geen tijd te verliezen - Geczy arriveert in Brussel op vrijdag, de performance start op zaterdag - is afgesproken dat wij de muur klaarzetten. Geczy heeft alles keurig voorbereid. Elk element van de performance is weloverwogen, er is geen spijker teveel, geen spijker te weinig. De performance begint tijdens de openingsavond. Daarna gaat Geczy er vier dagen aan een stuk tegenaan, telkens van twee tot zes, vier dagen aan een stuk, onafgebroken. Slechts heel af en toe neemt hij een korte pauze. Na één dag wordt duidelijk dat hij er nooit in zal slagen om de volledige tekst te doen tenzij hij er een maand mee bezig blijft. Dat kan niet. Tegen het eind van de week wordt hij weer in Sydney verwacht.
Enkele maanden na de performance publiceert The Monthly, toonaangevend magazine down under,(1) een artikel over het project, twee volle bladzijden aangedikt met wat beeldmateriaal. De auteur van het artikel is Adam Geczy. In het artikel gaat Geczy ook uitgebreid in op de Toasting To The World Food Crisis performance uit 2008, het andere project dat hij speciaal voor Croxhapox uitgewerkt had.


For almost a decade I had cherIshed the idea of doing a show about the Congo in Belgium. This was not out of some specific personal interest or social calling, only the Belgian Congo seems to be the quintessence of imperialist hell. I write in the present tense because although Belgium has ceased its claim over its former colony, the effects of its rule continue to ravage the country in the most imponderably violent fashion. This is so for most formerly imperialised nations, but especially for those in Africa. The site of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, since it became a personal acquisition of Leopold II of Belgium in 1885, Congo’s fortunes have been but differing degrees of horror.
Leopold never set foot in the country because he believed that the impenetrability of the terrain was on par with the backwardness and brutality of its people. Yet at brutality was what he excelled. He established a particularly effective form of coercion of the local population to obtain the rubber useful for machinery, and which increased in demand through the growing popularity of motor vehicles (Karl Benz patented his Motorwagen also in 1885). Grotesquely, under the false auspices of humanitarian objectives, men were extracted from their families and warned that without committing a period of service they would never see them again. Predictably not many did; subordination was met with mutilation, hand amputation being a speciality. Succumbing to the outcry of other European countries, in 1908 the colony was ceded to the Belgian state. Meanwhile the Congolese population had almost halved and Leopold had grown fabulously rich. Rubber plantations remain, but it is in minerals where the economy excels. The Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore, has copper and diamonds in plenty, and is a major source of coltan, a metallic ore essential for electronic devices. The regions producing these materials are regularly in dispute, effectively leaving the Congo in a constant state of civil war.
It is surprising how few people know about Andre? Gide’s Voyage au Congo let alone have read it. Surprising because at the time of its publication in 1927, it ignited controversy about the conditions of French and Belgian imperialism in Africa and lent major weight to the anti- colonialism movement. Having studied French literature myself, I was intrigued by the hole in such rudimentary knowledge when I stumbled upon it. This may have been a matter of my own stupidity, but from the point of view of the germination of the artwork, I took my own ignorance and that of others not as an oversight, but instead as a symbol of a conservative repression, a kind of negative osmosis. There are events and eras of such magnitude that, it is said, they ought never be forgotten. Yet to keep them within the light of the present takes some effort. To relinquish that effort also exposes the conservatism of lassitude, let alone the negative will that resides in an amnesia that asks to remain unchecked.
My previous exhibition in late 2008 at the experimental art space in Ghent, Croxhapox, was accompanied by the performance, Toasting the world food crisis with a bottle of Dom Perignon. It was a piece whose idea came from those rare occasions when, on savouring an expensive meal or wine, one momentarily feels a pang of shame when the mind strays to consider the logical force of such extravagance in terms of our normal weekly expenses. But if we then transplant these scruples into the realm of demography, it is as if when eating a steak, the suppressed shame of the routine terrors of the slaughterhouse must now also extend to the plight of underprivileged humanity. When we indulge in an expensive wine we could be feeding a village. Bon sante?.
Over several months I amassed mostly arbitrary statistics of the cost of food and labour in various African countries relative to a sip of Dom Perignon, the luxury drink par excellence. Based on an average price of US$200, one sip equates to around $8, and its translation into the activities of the 'developing' (developing into what?) world is crushing. During the performance I sat below a screen and slowly consumed the bottle, my face painted a pale blue for defamiliarisation. A litany of statements divided into short phrases pulsed away in an almost inexorable rhythm: ‘In Guinea-Bissau, the average annual gross income is $200, which is the average price of a bottle of Dom Perignon’, or ‘In Bangladesh well over half the population live on less than a dollar a day. That is, about 12% of a single sip’. By the second draught of wine I felt disgusted, which suggested that the performance was working its negative magic over me, and possibly over those watching it. Unusually, the audience stood largely rooted to the spot, entranced and appalled by the spectacle.
In proposing Remember to Forget the Congo the connection between the two works was only, oddly enough, made in retrospect. And as I suggested previously, there was nothing personal or ideological about this looming African obsession except to see it as a case of international embarrassment. I was to inhabit a room blackened to the height of two metres (a comfortable high arm’s reach) for five hours over five days and write out Gide’s account (Voyage au Congo) until the room became progressively whiter and almost returned to its former state. By physically remembering the book I would simultaneously be consigning it back into oblivion, making me the voice of revival while at the same time complicit in its forgetting.
Blue drop-sheets were affixed to the floor around the painted parts of wall, enframing the room via the floor. In the centre, a single sheet made an island on which were the apparatus of the performance: a table and chair painted the same black as the wall, a box of latex gloves, ten new black brushes, two for each day, and of course the book. One of the items of black clothing, folded diligently on the chair, and the old sneakers underneath had special references. Both were Nike brands (think sweatshops) but fakes, the sneakers bought in Bangkok twenty years ago, and the track pants in Beijing during the live art festival there in 2006. As it turned out the work was cleaner than I had expected and the gloves may not have been necessary. Once again, only later did I consider them an appropriate allusion to the rubber for which millions of Congolese perished.
By the end of the first day of the performance I had barely managed to cover the top half of the room, and only a handful of pages. The second day was spent largely bending up and down and see-sawing on my haunches, the writing progressively gaining in size with the extent of my discomfort. By the middle of the day, I began to feel like the prisoner of my own devising, doing unsolicited, voluntary penance for the wickedness about which I had no first-hand knowledge. I had begun to get accustomed to the tolling of the church bell every half-hour. At the day’s close I only managed to cover the walls but not pass onto the next layer, although my physical demolition was all but complete. The floor was as cold as Gide’s Congo was hot.
There are only stray notes of triumph in Gide’s account. When he arrives in Dakar at the start of his journey he finds it dull and coarse, the sounds from street prevent him from sleeping. He is conscious of his status as the Western intruder, cloyed by the colours, immobilised by the heat and buffeted by the chaos. All of this is stitched together
with beautiful prose. He is enraptured by the wildlife, the terrain, the sunsets. At times I just write mechanically taking little heed of what is being said; at other times the meditative blankness is interrupted when I stop to read a passage over again and muse briefly over it. These repetitive actions make for slow reading. A recurrent motif appears to be the butterflies that surprise him with their brilliant colours. Butterflies live for only a day. Perhaps then they are the ultimate embodiments of the condition of beauty.
On the third day I gained pace. The writing became larger, thicker and freer. I began to use more paint, make more mess, and cover more ground. Like a prisoner grown habituated to a cell, even to associate it with relative comfort, I became more sanguine and confident with the mechanical movements of transcribing a foreign language about a man I never knew, transplanted to a foreign place. Using the lines of the second layer he could make out, the director of the gallery, Hans van Heirseele (‘van’), composed a poem of the words around me as I wrote at one point:

where all the mixed sounds sleep
on the lower plains
beyond where some waves below waving
in their monotony
delighting to think that
a same colour
among the blacks
whose huts are scarcely distinguishable
are the same colour.

The last day was the least arduous. I clocked out at 2:20pm after completing a third layer. Except for a few glimpses of black, which gave the walls a silvery sheen, the wall was almost wholly white. It had transformed into a dense palimpsest-residue of words, a beautiful skein, holding a certain menace. As I did at the close of every day, I carefully folded and arranged the black clothing, now dirty and specked with white, on the chair. With the table also a bit spattered, the layout looked part museum piece, part remote remnant of a Stasi interrogation bureau. The latex gloves now formed an amorphous pile. Because I hadn’t performed in the second half of the day, one clean, untouched paintbrush lay alone on the table, the rest in the empty paint pot, caked in dried or drying paint. The book lay splayed face-down at the page at which I ended: 54. I made sure all was in its proper place. Mournful like a prisoner reluctant to leave his cell, my eye alighted upon the name that the paint company called this shade of white. Like some complaisant voice, or maybe a sign of silent revenge, it read: ‘Marrakesh white.’
Dr Adam Geczy teaches Sculpture, Performance and Installation at Sydney College of the Arts. Remember to Forget the Congo was conducted at Croxhapox Gallery in Ghent, Belgium, 1 to 5 May, remaining as an installation until 30 May. The performance and installation are documented in detail at www.voyageaucongo.blogspot.com. Of the performance’s live audience, Geczy comments that ‘it was interesting how the performance created a ‘no-go’ zone in which people felt inhibited to step in past a certain point while I was there. This for me was a salutary indication of what was working well since most good performances generate a charged space around the action.’ Australian Monthly, July 2010.

(1) The Monthly, Australian politics, society & culture, 'one of Australia's boldest voices, home to the finest writers, journalists and critics'. Zo staat het op de site van The Monthly. www.themonthly.com.au

2012, januari-februari. crox 430: 1000 Churches (dedicated to the bishop of Bruges).