Page 25


SLAUGHTER Kendell Geers and K.O. Lab, “S_LAUGHTER’,’ 2003 Neon tube sign, digital neon controller, aluminum armature, 32 x 7 feet. BOO S THE CULTURE Out of Africa BY DAVID THEIS `A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary African Art Abroad” Blaffer Gallery Houston September 9 November 11, 2006 hen you pull up in front of the University of Houston’s Blaffer Gallery, headed for the gallery’s “A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary African Art Abroad” exhibition, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re about to enter a rather frightening comedy club. That’s because of the S_LAUGHTER installation up on the Blaffer wall. A flickering neon “sign” created by South African artist Kendell Geers, the piece consists of a large, upper-case, red-neon depiction of the word SLAUGHTER, but with a flickering “S”, so that the message of the “word” alternates between “slaughter” and “laughter.” If you know S_ LAUGHTER serves as a kind of advertisement for an exhibition of contemporary African art, and if you know the exhibition’s purpose is to question whether such a thing as “African Art,” or even African identity, exists, you can begin to ponder the questions raised by Geers’ mischievous “S.” Is Africa indeed a dark continent, home to disease and rampant slaughter, or is it the land of happy, upbeat music that makes you want to smile, if not laugh? Is the notion that art can somehow be authentically “African” inherently funny for Geers and many of the other artists? After all, Geers is white, as are several of the other artists here. All have left the continent. Geers lives in Belgium; others are scattered across Europe and the United States. Soare they still “African?” In a globalized era, when artists travel like any other corporation, is there any point in insisting on geographic “authenticity?” These questions don’t apply to everyone. If a French artists move to the United States, no one asks if their art is authentically European. The French artist is recognized as an autonomous individual. But for a Nigerian painter “Yes, but is it African?” The blinking “S” \(and the rest of the and musings, along with other, more critical ones about the quality of the exhibit. Is a malfunctioning sign a good enough joke? Does it “have enough topspin?” as Donald Barthelme used to ask when his one of writing students attempted to commit irony. \(The In fact, this exhibition flickers about as much as the sign. Some pieces raise valid questions. Other installations make points that seem obvious and topspin deficient. The exhibition is long on concept and a bit short on aesthetic pleasure, while the most emotionally engaging seem to have little to do with the rest of the show. The main gallery downstairs features a mix of the strongest and weakest pieces. Mary Evans was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but now resides in London. \(All the artists were born in Africa but now live much more than a toy, gets the exhibition off to an underwhelming start. But she shares a gallery with one of show’s 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 20, 2006