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Jef Geys (1934-2018)

Jef Geys

The work of Jef Geys (1934-2018) constitutes one of the undisclosed territorialities of the neo-avant-garde, of which the artist gave the international art world a cryptic overview in 2002, within the largest platform for self-promotion: documenta in Kassel. The 36-hour-long projection Day and Night and Day was widely mentioned for its duration but hardly for the way it exposed an entire lifetime trajectory, for its manic exhibitory quality combined with its anti-narrativity.

All the photographs that Geys made until 1998 passed by in a photo-filmic overflow that laid out the scope of what he considered as constitutive of his practice. Blurring the lines between the different environments of his topographical or social operations, his pictures were made in his home-town in rural Balen, but also during holiday trips, at the school where he taught ‘positive aesthetics’ from 1966 to 1989, during regional socio-cultural and political actions, and in the depicted sceneries in the Belgian and international art worlds.

Subverting categorisations was a typical gesture for his generation, which used extradisciplinarity as a way to expose the conformism of stylistic and formal classifications based on academic criteria. Jef Geys positively echoed such practices in his tendency to archive and recollect knowledge. His presentations in exhibitions showed a diagrammatical organisation of his research in the form of laconic observations of phenomena, facts and documents. However, his display eluded any kind of narrative or communicative turn by leaving out titles and legends, following an erratic organisation and providing cryptic, hermetic information about what the (photographic) documents represented. Rather than being a mere documentation or proof of a visual fact, the slow sequence of images at documenta became more of a cinematic reverie with a deep autobiographical scope. The use of juxtaposition as a serial and de-dramatizing device, as well as the absence of careful framing and composition, installed Jef Geys’ work along the line of early conceptual photography, with its insistence on the indexical and the document, diagrammatic grids, and the substitution of professional media skills by an impersonal, factual or dilettantish imprint.

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