Kempens Informatieblad, Speciale Editie Biennale Venetië, 2009. Courtesy of the Estate of Jef Geys / Kazini
The interdisciplinary approach of the late Belgian artist Jef Geys fostered collaboration, interrogated art world authority and filled primary school classrooms with art collections from museums. His pedagogy, an art form in itself, was appropriately titled Positive Aesthetics. Geys’ art practice consisted of everyday activities such as working in the garden, collecting data, directing actions and documenting places. His newspapers, Kempens Informatieblad, operate as keys to these approaches and serve to structure each of his exhibitions.
Geys was the Belgian representative to the 2009 Venice Biennale, on which occasion he published the Quadra Medicinale edition of Geys’ Kempens Informatieblad. It begins with instructions from the artist: “Take as a starting point ‘terroir,’ thus a place where everything is able to take place, or perhaps better, has taken place.” With these words, he directs collaborators in four different cities – represented by four maps on its front page – to collect, photograph, harvest and dry plants growing wild within a specific radius of their home or workplace – in effect, to create a representation of each person’s quadrant. Trying to find the possibilities within interstitial spaces and the overlooked, Geys reflected, “I am attracted by hackneyed, milked dry, everyday things and situations.”
Quadra Medicinale unfolds as a retrospective of past projects – Geys numbered and described each work with an accompanying photograph or drawing. The last two pages are the results of his collaborators’ findings in their particular quadrants of the world. The photographs of plants are organized and labeled per city, offering the viewer a grid of botany. As if taken from the pages of a scientific textbook, the specimens form a taxonomy. Geys sought to print the newspaper in edible paper and non-toxic ink, so that the material itself could be consumed and reused. With an interest in using the paper to help the homeless, Geys suggested mapping the ‘street plants’ and printing medicinal recipes for ailments. Envisioning the newspaper’s function beyond the exhibition context calls attention to art’s potential to both intervene in and disappear into everyday life. Quadra Medicinale is a platform for an artist’s retrospective, collaborative exchanges and ultimately, reusable material. It is a manual or roadmap to the Belgian Pavilion in the 2009 Venice Biennale, yet is also applicable to other cities thereafter.