Georges Adéagbo


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Inverted Space

2015
Installation, mixed media in a glass cube with an illuminated floor
glass cube: 280 x 226 x 210 cm; inner cube: 188 x 120 x 160 cm

Installation view at Altonaer Balkon, Hamburg, Germany, 2015;
Photo: Paula Markert

Georges Adéagbo was born in 1942 in Cotonou (Benin). He lives and works in Cotonou and Hamburg.

After studying law in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Rouen (France), Adéagbo returned to Benin in the end of the 60s. By the time he was discovered in 1993 by a European curator by accident, he made daily complex installations in his yard without calling himself an artist. In 1994 he was invited to his first exhibition. From then on he implements his site-specific installations with a team of craftsmen in Benin. In 1999 he participated in the Venice Biennale and was the first artist from Africa to be given an award for his installation at the Campo Arsenale. Since at least 2002, when he presented an In-Situ-Installation as part of the documenta 11, curated by Okwui Enwezor in Kassel, Adéagbo has become one of the most renowned artists of Africa. The work from Kassel went later in modified form into the collection of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

His works can be found in other major collections, i.e. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Toyota City Museum and KIASMA Helsinki.
The exhibitions are supported and co-curated by Stephan Köhler (Cultural Forum South-North Hamburg-Cotonou).

Awards

Venice Biennial 1999, premio della Giuria

Grants-juries

2006/07 DAAD artists’ program Berlin
2006 jury member for the Schindler-residencies MAK, Vienna

Collections

Sammlung zeitgenössischer Kunst der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 2014
Moderna Museet Stockholm 2014
Whitworth Art Gallery The University of Manchester 2013
Collection Cecile Fakhouri Abidjan 2013
GIZ Regional Office Cotonou 2012
KIASMA Helsinki 2011
MUSAC Leon 2011
MAK Vienna 2009
Oslo National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design 2009
Ulmer Museum 2007
Philadelphia Museum of Art 2006
Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann, Zurich 2005
Blake Byrne, Los Angeles 1999 (donated to L.A. MoCA spring 2005)
Museum Ludwig Cologne 2003
Toyota Municipal Museum of Art 2000 and 2004

Selected Bibliography

Adéagbo, Georges. Die Mobilisierung der Dinge. Ortsspezifik und Kulturtransfer in den Installationen von Georges Adéagbo
(Dt.). Text v. Kerstin Schankweiler. 328 S., zahlr. s/w & farb. Abb., 22,5x15, brosch.. Bielefeld 2012 (Angesichts der eurozentristischen Rezeption von Kunst aus Afrika dient Adéagbos Arbeitsweise in diesem Band als Ausgangspunkt für Überlegungen zu einer transkulturellen Kunstgeschichtsschreibung.)

Grand Tour di un Africano
Kat. (Ital./Engl.). Hrsg. v. Chiara Bertola & Stephan Köhler. Texte v. Homi K. Bhabha, Johannes Gachnang, Marta Savaris u.a.. 276 S., zahlr. Abb.,24x17, brosch.. Poggibonsi 2008 (Übersichtskatalog über wichtige Ausstellungsstationen Adéagbos, so u.a. in Venedig, Rom, und Florenz.)

“La rencontre..!” Venise - Florence..!
Kat. (Ital./Engl.). Hrsg. v. Chiara Bertola & Stephan Köhler.Texte v. Chiara Bertola & Stephan Köhler. 160 S., zahlr. Abb., 18x12, brosch.. Pistoia 2008

DC: Georges Adéagbo
Kat. (Dt./Engl.) Texte v. Homi K. Bhabha & Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff. 36 S., 16 farb. Abb., 30x24, Ppdg.. Köln 2004 (Spätestens seit der Documenta 11 zählt Georges Adéagbo zu den bekanntesten westafrikanischen Künstlern. In seiner, in diesem Katalog vorgestellten Installation konfrontiert Adéagbo das Klischeebild v. Afrika mit Fundstücken den Präsentationsortes.)

Archäologie der Motivationen - Geschichte neu schreiben
Kat. (Dt./Engl.). Mit Beiträgen v. Elizabeth Harney, Johannes Gachnang, Okwui Enwezor u.a. sowie einer beigelegtem farb. Falttafel. 113 S., 43 farb. & wenige s/w Abb., 20x15,5, brosch.. Ostfildern 2001
(Umfassender Werkkatalog, der sich als Anthologie der Arbeiten des aus Benin stammenden Künsters versteht. Adéagbos “Archäologie der Motivationen” geht es dabei nicht um das demokratische Nebeneinander v. Fakten, sondern um eine Demontration des Verfahrens mit dem Geschichte selbst geschrieben wird.)

The Story of the Lion
Künstlerbuch, mit Texten v. Adéagbo (Dt./Engl.), welches zur Installation auf dem Campo dell ́Arsenale in Venedig für die 48. Biennale di Venezia 1999 entstand. Einmalige Aufl. v. 300 Exx.. 7 doppelseitig bedruckte Falttafel (á 76x21,5), 26x22, faltbare Pappdeckeleinband. Hamburg 1999


http://www.jointadventures.org/adeagbo/biblio.htm

Solo Exhibitions / Einzelausstellungen

2016
"Knowing oneself, does one know who the other is? Africa in Jerusalem", Focus Gallery, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

2015
"Inverted Space", Kulturforum Süd-Nord und Stadtkuratorin Hamburg, Germany

2014
"Les artistes et l‘écriture"..!", Galerie B. Wien, Berlin, Germany
"La Naissance de Stockholm", Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

2013
"Decolonize München", Münchener Stadtmuseum, Sammlung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Munich, Germany
"Il était un fois, Košice: Košice d’hier, Košice d’aujourd’hui..!", Make-Up Gallery, Košice, Slovakia

2011
"La Mission et les Missionaires", MUSAC, Leon, Spain

2010
"La Culture et les Cultures – La Chine a Hambourg", Galerie Holzhauer, Hamburg, Germany

2009
"Die Kolonisation und die Geschichte der Kolonisierten", MAK Vienna, Austria

2008
"La rencontre..!" Venise-Florence, Palazzo Vecchio and Gallery Frittelli, Florence, Italy
"La Belgique au Congo", Sint Lukas Galerie, Brussels, Belgium

2007
« Tout de Moi à Tous » daadgallery Berlin, Germany
„La rencontre..!“ Venise-Florence, Fondazione Querini Stampalia-Venice, Italy

2005
‘Dieu-créateur dans la création’ und ‘AC-DC Archiv des Museum Ludwig’, Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann, Zürich, Switzerland

2004
‘"L’explorateur et les explorateurs devant l’histoire de l’exploration".. !-Le théâtre du monde.. !’ Museum Ludwig, Köln
‘Le Socialisme Africain’, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

2001
‘L’Epoque Pythagoreene’ Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck

2000
‘La rencontre de l’Afrique et du Japon’ Toyota Municipal Museum of Art
‚Abraham, l‘ami de Dieu‘ P.S.1, New York, Long Island City

1997
‚Death and Resurrection‘ (La mort et la résurrection) Galerie Natalie Obadia, Paris
‚Redemption, the Redeemer‘ (la rédemption, le rédempteur) le Quartier, centre d‘art contemporain, Quimper, France


Group Exhibitions / Gruppenausstellungen

2016
(upcoming) "Wir nennen es Ludwig", Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
(upcoming) "An Age Of Our Own Making", Images Biennial, Holbaek, Denmark
(upcoming) "…und eine welt noch", Kunsthaus Hamburg, Germany

2015
"After Babel", Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
"Global Imagination", Museum de Lakenhal Leiden, Netherlands
"The Problem of God", Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany

2014
"Bois Secret", Dakar Biennale, Off event curated by Martine Boucher, Dakar, Senegal
"Colonia Apócrifa", Re-installation of "The Mission and Missionaries", MUSAC, León, Spain
"L’Allemagne avant la guerre et L’Allemagne après la guerre..!", Re-installation, Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany
"Artevida", School of Visual Arts Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2013
"DECOLONIZE MÜNCHEN" at the Stadtmuseum München
"L’Allemagne avant la guerre et L’Allemagne après la guerre..!", Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany

2012
Paris Triennial, Palais de Tokyo, curated by Okwui Enwezor
We Face Forward, Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester
The Storytellers, The Stenersen Museum Oslo
Biennale Regard Benin 2012 Porto Novo and Togbin Plage

2011
ARS 11, Kiasma Helsinki
ABSOLUTT INSTALLASJON National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design. Oslo. Reinstallation of the work commissioned for the exhibition “Hypocrisy” in 2009

2010
„Transparancy“ Trasparenze, Macro Futuro Rome, curated by Laura Cherubini and Sauro Bocchi, hosted by Fabula in Art
„Transparancy“ Trasparenze, MADRE Napoli

2009
“Hypocrisy-The Sitespecifity of Morality” Oslo National Museum of Contemporary Art
„Fare Mondi“ 53rd Venice Biennial

2008
« Ephemeral Fringes » Art Brussels
“Regardez l’histoire!” in “See History 2008” Kunsthalle Kiel
“Intolerance” Ravello Festival, Sorento

2007
« Créer le monde en faisant des collections- hommage a Christoph Weickmann » in Weickmann’s Wunderkammer, Ulmer Museum
« Une espace avec le Monde » in „Beyond the Wall,“Stiftung Brandenburger Tor, Max Liebermann Haus, Berlin

2006
‚Abraham, l’ami de Dieu- Philadelphia version’ Philadelphia Museum of Art
In „Notations: Out of Words“ that included also Bruce Nauman, On Kawara, Glenn Ligon and Joseph Kosuth

2005
‘Dieu-créateur dans la création’ and ‘AC-DC Archiv des Museum Ludwig’ both in modified versions at Galerie Kaufmann, Zürich
«La Colonisation Belge en Afrique Noir » modified version in Belgique Visionnaire, Bozar, Bruxelles, curated by Harald Szeemann
The Blake Byrne Collection, ed. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

2004
‘In the Bed’ in: “In Bed.” Toyota Municipal Museum of Art
‘Dieu-créateur dans la création’ Art Cologne, Stand Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann
‘AC-DC Archiv des Museum Ludwig’ Rheinschau. Köln

2002
‘„L’explorateur et les explorateurs devant l’histoire de l’exploration“.. !-Le théâtre du monde.. !’ in : Documenta 11, Kassel

2001
‚Le Socialisme Africain‘ (African Socialism) in: ‚The Short Century‘ by Okwui Enwezor four venues. Villa Stuck - Munich, Haus der Kulturen der Welt-Berlin, MCA-Chicago, P.S.1- New York (2002)
’Un espace...! Monde(histoire de l‘art)’ in : Ein Raum ist eine Welt. Kunsthalle Zurich 2001

2000
‘ForwArt’ a choice, six curators-six artists, Harald Szeemann invited Georges Adéagbo, who composed ‘La colonisation Belge en Afrique noir’ for this exhibition in Bruxelles hosted by the BBL (banque bruxelles lambert) April-May
‘La resurrection de Edith Piaf’ in ‘Voilà. le monde dans la tête.’ Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, ARC
‘Hommage à Napoléon le grand’ in ‘la ville, le jardin, la mémoire’, Rome, installation in the loggia and the garden of villa Medici
for ‘Partage de l’exotisme’ at the fifth Biennale de Lyon, the piece ‘La mort et la resurrection’(‘Death and Resurrection’, created for the exhibition at Galerie Natalie Obadia, Paris 1997) was partially installed against the artists will

1999
‚Venise d’hier-Venise d’aujour d’hui’ (‘The Story of the Lion‘) a one-day installation for the Campo dell‘Arsenale, June 10, hosted by Joint Adventures Art Projects and the Venice Biennial, awarded with the ‘premio della giuria’ (prize of the jury)
‘Kunstwelten im Dialog’, Museum Ludwig Koeln, concept: Marc Scheps (Global Art Rheinland 2000) Against Georges Adégbo’s will, the piece ‘Death and Resurrection’ (dedicated for a gallery exhibition in Paris 1997) was partially installed. His offer to create a site specific installation for the occasion and city of Cologne was refused

1998
‚Cannibalism‘ (le canibalisme) „Roteiros, Roteiros, ...Roteiros“ XXIV Biennale de Sao Paolo
‚The Philosophical Schools‘ (Les Écoles philosophiques) 7. Triennale der Klein-Plastik, Afrika-Europa“, Stuttgart

1997
Johannesburg Biennial
‚Contemporary Art and Modern Art‘ (L’art contemporain et l’art moderne) „Georges Adéagbo and Honoré d’O“,
Kunsthalle FRI-ART, Fribourg, Switzerland
‚Creativity‘ (la créativité) „Die anderen Modernen“, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
‚The Guardians of the World’1997/98 (Les veilleurs du monde) studio-session and exhibition at the Centre Culturel Français, Cotonou, Benin and Musée national d‘arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, Paris
‚The First Year of Democracy‘ 1997-1998 (L’An 01 de la democratie) „Alternating Currents,” second Johannesburg Biennial, South Africa

1996
‚Images of Africa‘ (Les images de l’afrique) „African Art towards the Year 2000“, Round Tower, Kopenhagen
‚The Rennaissance‘(La renaissance) Galerie du jour Agnès B., Paris

1995
‚Peace in the World‘ (La paix dans le monde) „Dialog des Friedens“, Palais of the United Nations, Geneva
‚Art and Evolution‘, (L’art et l’evolution) „Big City“, The Serpentine Gallery, London
‚Archaeology‘ (L’archeologie) „African Artists and Aids“, Centre Culturel Français, Cotonou, Benin; The Dakar Biennial, Senegal

1994
‚Archaeology‘ (L’archeologie), in ‘La Route de l’art sur la Route de l’esclave’ , Saline Royale d’Arc-et-Senans, France; traveling in 1997 to : Centre culturel du SESC Pompeia, Sâo Paolo, Brazil, 1998: Musée d‘art moderne, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Centre culturel de Fond Saint-Jacques, Sainte-Marie, Martinique, 1999 Artchipel, scène nationale de la Guadeloupe

The Aesthetics of Production, A-Z by Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff

La Question Adéagbo von Homi K. Bhabha

A Dimension to Explore - Georges Adéagbo as a Writer and Historian by Stephan Köhler

Die Mobilisierung der Dinge von Kerstin Schankweiler (pdf)

Ein Labor der Begegnungen von Stephan Köhler (pdf)

The Artist in Writing by Gauthier Lesturgie (pdf EN), L‘artiste dans l‘écriture by Gauthier Lesturgie (pdf FR)

The Aesthetics of Production, A-Z
Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff

aus: DC: Georges Adéagbo, L‘exploarteur et les explorateurs devant l‘histoire de l‘exploration...! Le théâtre du monde, Museum Ludwig, Köln 2005, S. 9 ff.

Adéagbo / Aéroport / Architecture / Art concepts / Biography / Books / Cotonou / History / Legend of the Artist / Materiality/Mediality / Photography / Television / Zemidjan

Adéagbo

Georges Adéagbo (born 1942 in Cotonou, lives in Cotonou) has been acclaimed as one of West Africa’s foremost artists ever since his contribution to the documenta in 2002 - “The explorer and explorers confronting the history of exploration”. Following his “discovery” in 1993 by a French art agent, this autodidact’s installations have been exhibited in Europe, the two Americas, and even Japan, but remained virtually unknown in West Africa itself. His commissioned works tackle such subjects as cannibalism, slavery, socialism, religion, war, art, or mostly male historical personages. He builds his installations up from artefacts, objets trouvés from everyday cultures, as well as from paintings and sculptures that he orders from the sign-maker Esprit or from wood carvers. These multi-part assemblages are then further structured by means of handwritten notes, and the topics he has worked on in Cotonou are varied at the exhibition space by adding locally found objects, tales and images, which in some cases he transports back home and has translated into other media. In this way the artist-author commutes back and forth between the continents with his exhibits before assigning them a place within the aesthetic space of an installation – one that is no more definitive than his temporary, local interpretation of the subject matter. This elaborate procedure repeats the historic circulation of peoples, objects, signs, images, media, and languages, and traverses the boundaries between continents, epochs, cultures, classes, generations, arts, and genres with a breathtaking virtuosity whose seeming effortlessness and playful grace reminds us of the Mannerist ideal of the sprezzatura.

Western art criticism – for there is no other at present – has lauded Adéagbo’s work for exemplary paradigms that have become mainstream during the past decade: hybridisation, in-between, and translocation. The artist’s reception - as evidence of a Euro-American Postcolonial discourse – has emphasized the radicalism with which he adheres to a specific place, without the critics paying any attention to Cotonou itself or deeming their lack of knowledge even worthy of mention. Key words like “lives in Paris” or “lives and works in Podunk and in New York” suffice to give an artist’s cultural context, because art critic and reader alike know the art-political topography too well to demand further comment. The contraction “lives in Cotonou” is, however, dis-nominative, for it renders unreal the place where Adéagbo’s site-specific art is produced, and arrogantly asserts Euro-American reception to be universal. A journey to Cotonou, which I undertook for other purposes, convinced me (incidentally, unavoidably) of the true import of the city’s production aesthetics for the installations I previously had seen in Cologne, Munich, Berlin, and Kassel. For art historians, sketching out the local, cultural context is a boring duty. The fact that in this case the context has been systematically excluded makes banal observations seem spectacular.

Aéroport

The airport at Cotonou has been enlarged by an extension that reminds Stephan Köhler of the boarding station at the bottom of a ski lift. The half-finished, dimly-lit concrete building, the wooden sheds and provisional entrances and exits contrast sharply with the “non places” in Frankfurt and Paris: instead of shiny surfaces and a functional sequence of operations in a milieu that stifles emotion, we encounter the pathos of parting and return, as exciting as the railway stations of Impressionist paintings and silent movies. No one can escape the physical contacts and powerful emotions which are brought to fever pitch by hours of waiting. Whereas the airports of Europe and North America resemble one another in a truly disorienting way – their similarity could be used as a metaphor for “dis-location” – the airport of Cotonou is a rite de passage which no one passes through unchanged.

Architecture

The buildings of Cotonou are only taxed once they have been plastered and painted, so the predominant colour of the architecture is cement grey. This construction material, whose production constitutes the country’s sole industry, distinguishes the town from the warm, reddish ochre tones of the ancient Royal Cities Abomey, Porto Novo, and Ouidah. Beyond the grey we find: patterned plastic and metal surfaces, speckled imitation marble, anodised copper staircases, Renaissance and Baroque balusters, and Doric colonnades and Ionian portals made of concrete, plastic, and ceramic. From the caved-in roofs of uninhabited houses to the storage yards full of construction materials, from the abandoned husks of newly-made buildings to the bustling construction sites, the signs of ruin are indistinguishable from those of upswing.

Gabriele Muschel and I assumed that the tropical climate was responsible for the rust-red and sulphur-yellow cracks, the crumbling plaster and the rampant patches of mould on Hotel Croix du Sud, which is scarcely thirty years-old. Later we learnt that it is due to the shoddy building material: cement is cut with sand and sold twice or three times over. Solitary architectural grotesques tower above the flat shanty landscape. Styles and materials are combined with a fantasy unbound by architectural rules, making the tastelessness of post-modern architecture in Europe seem quite staid.

In Cotonou the architecture does not structure and contain the extravagance and profligacy of urban life, it is itself extravagant and profligate. Which in turn questions the hierarchies involved in western concepts of space.

Art concepts

Benin does not have an art college. There is a lot of talk about the plans for setting up an academy, which is expected to be located in provincial Abomey. The Beninese artists who are currently the most successful in the West are autodidacts. In the catalogue to the exhibition “L’Harmattan 2000”, Florent Couao-Zotti explained the popularity of recuperating the waste products of industry and the cultural machinery – a procedure interpreted as a symptom of poverty – by the aesthetic education provided by the city, which substitutes for academic training. In the same catalogue, Joseph Adandé underlines the artists’ efforts to free the “genie créateur africain” from the primitivist legacy of an “art premier”, and characterises the latter’s neo-colonial presentation in the Louvre as: “Africa as Europe likes it”. These authors (the pioneers of a future Beninese art criticism) champion a universalist art concept that allows them to counter the unconscionable ethnisation of western exoticism.

In an interview in 1997, Adéagbo defined his art concept as language under the condition of speechlessness, as an indirect dialogue, staggered through phases of mediacy and retrospection. His metaphor “Art as language and writing” does not derive from the ideas of western avant-gardes, but from his experiences with a debasing colonial culture, from multilingualism (Fon, Yoruba, Adja, Mina, Somba, Dendi, French), and from the ostracism and pathologisation meted out by his family. “What induced me to make these installations? My family never accepted that I talk. But I have something to say. I want a passer-by to see what’s there through what I write, say, or show. He can ask himself why someone does something like that and what he’s trying to convey. He can read and study what I want to say. That’s the reason I began making these installations.”

I translated a text for him that carefully suggested that Adéagbo wanted to question the western concept of art. He shrugged, the western concept of art means precious little to him. Time and again he stresses that he is not an artist and not a part of the corrupted “art world” (although he is by no means indifferent to the way this world acknowledges him as an artist). His distance to the art system, his autodidactism and psychiatric categorisation led to his works being referred to as “outsider art”. This is refuted by his statements and installations, which actually focus on the concept of art and self-reflexively account for his distance to the art system: “Ils sont des artistes ... et ma personne de Georges Adéagbo est artiste faisant des installations sur l’art ... œuvre d’art qui est écriture.” Outsider- and meta-art are irreconcilable opposites because the one is seen as ultra-naive, the other as ultra-intellectual. There should be no mistake, the installations are commissioned as art by Western art centres, but while they simultaneously undermine and reflect on the client’s art concept, they avoid dadaist gestures of deconstruction. Adéagbo’s negation of art does not feed vampire-like on the glory of art history’s grand narratives. Two particular resources and models for his art concept are: fetishism - as a variant of the objets trouvés - and Gayatri Spivak’s question “Can the subaltern speak?” I know, as he tells, that Jean and Marcellin (two servants who cannot read French) look at my installations while I am away from home, and think about them. And they know that I know. We would never mention it, but it’s as if I am talking to them and they are listening.

Biography

Adéagbo’s written construction of Ma personne de Georges is reminiscent of Else Lasker-Schüler’s scriptorial and drawn performances of the self as Prinz Jussuff. For both Lasker-Schüler and Adéagbo, the autobiography is more than poetic text material, because they present authorship as an act of self-constitution that relates directly to reality without mimetic duplication or allegorical encoding. The reconstruction of a biography from the wreckage of collective and individual catastrophes is no child’s play, not a jolly game of free-floating significants. Georges Adéagbo is not dismantling a male European self with a fashionable nod towards the post modern critique of the subject, but is genuinely restoring a damaged person as mask (per-sona).

Books

Books are a vital element of the installations. Important are the pictures and the typography of the jacket. With a disciplined, old-fashioned hand the author adds commentaries to the opened pages, or energetic arrows to guide the viewer’s eye over the page’s edge to rubber sandals, African sculptures, European bric-à-brac, T-shirts, record covers, or a message in a bottle we found yesterday evening on the beach. In his documenta installation, a boy’s adventure novel entitled Kai in Kamerun dominated the ensuing discussion. However, the question as to whether Adéagbo reads German and English, which books he selects for their contents and which for the pictures on their jackets, what or indeed whether he reads, is the wrong one. His concern is with the book as object, which has a different status in the oral cultures of West Africa to that in Europe, which Ernst Robert Curtius describes as originating in the “Latin middle ages”.

Georges Adéagbo showed me his library in the house in which he grew up and lived from 1971 to 1999. The room is painted a pale blue, cool in the half-shade behind a veranda opening onto an unpaved courtyard where children play and women do the laundry. The dust-coated books are arranged at loose angles in beautiful, crudely constructed wood shelves: travel guides, Marguerite Yourcenar, Camus, Sartre, Kant, whodunits, Rimbaud, Racine, other classics, The Communist Manifesto, rare exhibition catalogues, books in languages he cannot read. The books in his installations evoke an impression of overwhelming generosity. They betoken wealth, richness and unlimited access to all the knowledge that Adéagbo wishes for, and which he is wholeheartedly willing to share with the beholder. There is no bibliophilic awe here: the traces of use and the gritty dust reduce costly encyclopaedias to the same level as dime novels; old books are no more valuable than newspapers, magazines, brochures, or pamphlets. Books as fetishes of colonial culture essentialise the superiority of the European written record over the African oral tradition. Adéagbo lets the books loose for a wild, eventful, social life; these abandoned gifts criss-cross the continents constantly provoking new readers and readings. No canons, and nobody’s property.

Cotonou

Founded in 1830 by Gezo, the King of Abomey on the advice of Don Francisco de Souza, the most powerful of the slave traders and Viceroy of Ouidah. After trading was prohibited, illegal shiploads of slaves continued to be despatched from the harbour to Brazil; nowadays the containers spew out the Biblical plagues of city life: fossils of automotive history, antique cars, mediaeval trucks, motorbikes, mopeds, Vespas, scrapped minibuses from Germany whose inscriptions (“Elektro-Knäble/Wanne-Eickel”) create mirth among travellers to the rural north. At first sight the city, which spreads like a tumour under the wreathes of poisonous exhaust fumes, is of a breathtaking hideousness. On second sight, different social topographies can be discerned: the administrative and diplomatic district Cadjehoun, and the upwards-aspiring white districts Bonne Pasteur and Coconatière with their broad avenues, offices of international concerns, and European pizza parlours (the Livingstone is the last, oppressive port of call on the way to the airport). Wide, dusty parks in which coconuts, rattan furniture, batik garments and sunglasses are sold. Only a few of the main streets have names – Boulevard St. Michel, Boulevard de France, Boulevard Steinmetz, Avenue de la Francophonie. The city map assigns numbers to many but by no means all of the nameless streets, but they don’t count.

The cafeteria at the entrance to the campus, in which mostly nothing is to be had, is called Palais de Gouverneur, a miserable little tailor’s goes by the name Haute Couture Yves St. Laurent, a hairdresser’s promises the impossible: the Eternelle Coiffure, while a photographer’s with a snow-clad panorama of the alps promises Love. Nowhere is the stench of urine so overpowering as by the walls embellished with the letters: Défense d´uriner. This urban synaesthesia knows no norms or hierarchies, but is far from disorderly. It is not difficult for me to recognise its underlying logic in Adéagbo’s installations: the kinship between things and people, the equality of image and word, the endless chains of associations, the ephemeral and the provisional, the reversal of shortage into plenitude, the materiality and corporeality of the media, the extravagant profligacy and the bricolage, the vitality of popular and the sterility of high culture, the greedy, disrespectful piecemeal assimilation of the Western commodity world, the denial of exoticism and folklore, multilingualism as a visual principle, the power exerted by the past and the invisible.

History

Topics: slavery, cannibalism, war, democracy, socialism, the history of colonisation, religion, ideas and art, heroes, and the legends of the martyrs: Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King etc. Just one woman: the resurrection of Edith Piaf. Plus the local history of Cotonou, Ouidah, Porto Novo, Abomey, Nattitingu, Berlin, Munich, São Paulo, Chicago, Johannesburg, Innsbruck, Rome, New York etc.

Methods: archaeology, archives, collections, data storage, museum, fragmentation, montage, securing evidence, correspondences, analogies, geomancy, ancestor cult, dream, working through variants, relation between key data of personal and collective history.

During our evening stroll to Hotel Cauris Coquillages (Chez Rada), Adéagbo surprised me by comparing the Royal Palace in Abomey with the park and palace of Versailles. The architecture of both palaces, he said, is strong and vital, but the museumized interiors with their subsequent furnishings are dead: they lack the historical breath of royal rule. In 1670 Louis XIV received the ambassador of the King of Allada, Don Lopez. Dahomey conquered Allada and the smaller domains to the south, and turned the growing European demand for slaves into a profitable business. The fateful role played by their own elites is nowadays mostly countered by transferring the trauma of slavery into a rational, collective historical awareness. The clay reliefs and textile appliqués at the court of Abomey (Dahomey) show scenes of the slave hunt that are omitted from the iconography that the arts and crafts market borrows from Abomey.

It is notable that Georges Adéagbo avails himself neither of a positive national identity, nor indeed of any other. A colonised person – fearlessly confronting colonial history – but at the mercy of the memories he captures in his installations. As an aesthetic “conceptual space” in the sense used by Aby Warburg, they allow the artist and his audience to expose themselves to the horror. On another evening while returning from Chez Rada, he ardently invoked the beauty and magnificence of Versailles, saying nothing in Africa measures up to it, before explaining – agitated and embittered – that it was paid for by the profits from unpaid African slave labour.

Legend of the Artist

“Georges Adéagbo, who was mad because madness was inside him and was ill because there was illness inside him, has become the artist Georges Adéagbo...! after 23 years of hardship and suffering, without a family, who could have imagined that someone would come and see me, this person Georges Adéagbo the same way my person Georges Adéagbo is seen today...? Art means suffering, and only he who can and could accept suffering, and could suffer in order to suffer, could be regarded as an artist and call himself an artist... The creator god and the creation...!”

Adéagbo’s sad fairytale success story was spurred on by the fact that his biography brings together the topoi of the western “legend of the artist” : his family’s underestimation of his talent, his ability to withstand adverse circumstances, the chance discovery of the autodidactic artist, his unmarried state, poverty, loneliness, Christ-like stature, and madness. Ma personne de Georges presents a cascade of classical roles depicting the artist as social outcast: mage, prophet, priest, explorer, nomad, martyr, victim, redeemer. As heavy-handedly as art criticism employs these patterns in its biographism, just as little can we accept a concrete effect from the mythology of the artist: the “lived biography” as Ernst Kris and Otto term it - the identification of the future artist with the topoi of the “lives of artists” which he is compelled to emulate if he is to fit society’s image of the artist. Adéagbo’s life predates his European career as an artist, both chronologically and conceptually. A variant of a topos: whereas Cimabue discovered Giotto as a shepherd boy and brought the child prodigy from a distinctly non-art milieu into the male genealogy of a community of geniuses Adéagbo was “discovered” as a mature adult by the art manager Jean Michel Roussel after having already spent twenty years honing his installations to the point of virtuosity. He has no pupils and would scarcely ever found his own school, and yet his œuvre sets standards and draws on paradoxically linked traditions. His relationship to the obsolete western artist myth, which nowadays is upheld solely by the market, is ambivalent. He wavers between rejecting the artist’s role and accepting affinities suggested by Western friends and curators. On the poster in Kassel advertising his 2001 exhibition in Innsbruck we see, above a photo portrait of Georges Adeágbo in a hat, a wooden sign painted by Esprit based on a photo portrait of Joseph Beuys with hat.

Materiality/Mediality

There is not a trace in Benin of the mediatised “ethnoscapes” and ethnicised “mediascapes” that Arjun Appadurai describes as effects of globalisation. The imaginary does not convey virtual images, but rather the materiality of the things: the objet trouvé as fetish. No one would think to claim here that media produce or substitute for reality. Which is not to say that authenticity or some pristine state prevails, but rather that other media dominate: the bodies and gestures, hairdos and textiles, the sign paintings, the cell phones, the Zemidjans. Electronic media have no part in Georges Adéagbo’s installations, although he regularly enjoys watching TV. The book-like plastic video boxes are included in his installations, but not video art. Not e-mails but handwritten letters, and likewise we find photos and Xeroxes but no digital images. Reproductions, copies, replicas, imitations, parodies, inversions, citations and self-quotes, a never-ending recuperation of the culture industry – but all bound to tactile materials and media which display the marks of their histories like scars, and whose corporeality deeply moves the art audience. The main aesthetic theme dictated by urban culture in Benin is the relationship between materiality and mediality. There would be no deeper significance to this simple observation were it not systematically ignored. The negation by the digital media of a media reality (still) bound to materiality is neo-colonial, because it anticipates the latter’s disappearance and exoticises its conservation in the artwork.

Photography

A standard feature of the hotels and museums are the reproductions of Pierre Verger’s photographs from Dieux d’Afrique, often sealed in yellowed plastic foil. His most famous shots are of a Voodoo priest in Benin and of another in Brazil bearing the double axe of the deity Xangô. Their astonishing similarity shows that the cultural identity of the West African slaves was not erased in Brazil, but preserved by the transformation of Voodoo into syncretistic Candomblé. During a brisk tour of the exhibition, Adéagbo casts a quick but assured judgement on Verger’s photographs, dismissing them as European exoticism. The noble savage drawing his bow, the women’s naked breasts, the white patches on the black skin of the possessed, the postures of trance are now part of the iconography of neo-colonialism adopted by the culture industry to market Voodoo. Significantly Verger’s otherwise omnipresent photographs are missing from Adéagbo’s collections and installations.

Instead he has a rare vintage print from the Senegalese portrait photographer Mama Casset. The exposure – in a large format with a slender wood frame for hanging on the wall – shows two Muslim men wearing fezzes. The older, bearded man is seated, the younger, beardless man is standing behind him, his right hand with a large ring resting lightly on the older man’s shoulder. The composition creates a careful balance in the similarities and differences between the two men and circles round the gentle hand contact. The men attentively watch the procedure for their own iconisation, in full consent with the camera that transforms them into a double portrait. This is not colonial photography. Unlike Pierre Verger, Mama Casset is as good as forgotten in the West.

Television

Stephan Köhler drew my attention to the folds in the blue drapes behind the corpulent TV newscaster with her audacious hat: they had not been straightened. The series Rosalinda and Beauté du diable are Mexican and Brazilian imports. Most of the news is about Benin, with just a little information on West Africa and the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, and even less international news, for it is prohibitively expensive. An advertising spot for toothpaste is backed by a panorama of New York showing the World Trade Center still intact. December featured lengthy table ronde programmes on the first-ever local elections, held under the motto: Decentralisation is Democratisation. A film financed by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung teaches fairness in electoral campaigns: it is wrong to tear down the other parties’ posters or beat their supporters with sticks. The amateurishly acted scenes are shot front-on. On New Year’s Eve, President Mathieu Kérékou addressed the citizens (“Béninois et Béninoises!”) with a firm, beautiful voice, urging them to work and be peaceable. During the long speech his face was faded out from time to time to show meditative pans through the park of the presidential palace. Few households in Benin have electricity, and televisions in bars and restaurants are a rarity. Television has next to no influence on politics, bodies and desire in public life.

Zemidjan

The moped taxis are called zemidjans, the drivers zems. The young men wear loose, bright yellow shirts bearing printed numbers, rakish neckscarves that give them a piratical air, and surgical masks or Lufthansa eye masks to protect them from the fumes. Zemidjans have replaced the smooth functioning public transport system of old and, as the fastest and cheapest means of transport, are responsible for over fifty percent of the deadly air pollution. While accelerating and braking, taking the curves around the potholes and dunes, or pitching over the ridges of sand along the Route des Pêcheurs, driver and driven communicate with the energy and rhythms of the machines. Zemidjans are centaurs: their torsos, faces and hands are male, their lower bodies metallic. Their world is one of constantly flowing motion, daredevil acrobatics, open gazes, the risky game of driving on each other’s tails and the competition between these bold, youthful mythical creatures who mutually pursue, overtake, and playfully challenge one another, without ever actually touching or injuring anyone. Showing their solidarity in the hopeless struggle to survive, they demonstrate the artistry of a hybrid social body which stakes its very life as it turns poverty into art. I would have to have been blind not to recognise this same artistry in Georges Adéagbo’s installations.


La Question Adéagbo
Homi K. Bhabha

aus: DC: Georges Adéagbo, L‘exploarteur et les explorateurs devant l‘histoire de l‘exploration...! Le théâtre du monde, Museum Ludwig, Köln 2005, S. 25 ff.


Welche Fragen sollen wir an das Werk von Georges Adéagbo stellen?

Wie können wir uns in das Wanderarchiv seiner Kunst stehlen, ohne ihr Geheimnis und unser Begehren zu verraten?

Man schaue sich an, wie Adéagbo vom Ansammeln zum Auftrag, vom Ausstellen zum Ausformen übergeht, man schaue sich sich seine labyrinthischen Wege (Cotonou, Kassel, Köln, London, New York, Toyota) und Mittel (Malerei, Zeitungen, handschriftliche Notizen, in seinem Auftrag hergestellte Totempfähle, objets trouvés, Texte und Textilien) an, die die Routen, welche er genommen hat, zurückverfolgen lassen. Er wandelt das Kennzeichnende eines Gegenstands ab, ohne deshalb die Kennung, seinen Ort innerhalb der Netze von kultureller Referenz und sozialer Symbolik, zu löschen. Adéagbos Kunst ist kein gefälliger Pluralismus, sie handelt von den Schwierigkeiten des Benachbartseins. Was Okwui Enwezor präzise als den Einfluss des afrikanischen Marktplatzes auf dieses Werk beschrieben hat, „reine Kontingenz, Ort des fortwährenden Akkumulierens und Konsumierens, der Verschwendung und der Anordnung“, legt den Grund für eine ästhetische und ethische Praxis, die mit dem reizbaren und aufreizenden Sich-Nahsein des Verschiedenen befasst ist – gegen alle Anfechtungen der Orts- und Identitätslosigkeit, für einen verantwortlichen Umgang mit den erschreckenden Schemen der Nähe.

Adéagbos archivarische Installationen stellen eine bricolage der Differenzen – von Bild, Genre, Medium, historischem Hintergrund, Erzählweise, rhetorischen Traditionen – bereit, die die üblichen Distinktionen aufhebt, mit welchen die Agenturen von Politik und Privileg ihre auf religiöser Rechtgläubigkeit, nationaler Einheitlichkeit und kultureller Ursprünglichkeit fußende priesterlich-ästhetische Macht markieren. Die interkulturellen und intertextuellen mises-en-scène, wie sie für alle Arbeiten Adéagbos typisch sind, stellen nicht nur jedes einzelne Element, jede einzelne Geste der jeweiligen Arbeit in einen neuen Kontext, sie stoßen auch einen fortlaufenden Prozess der Übersetzung an, der kulturell und zeitlich weit auseinander liegende Zeichen und Anzeichen in eine Bewegung versetzt. Übersetzungsarbeit verhindert, dass ein Werk zum Sklaven eines Lebens, einer Sprache, einer Interpretation werden kann. „... Ma personne de Georges Adéagbo n’est pas esclave (l’homme vivant, pour être en vie, on a de force, de puissance ...)“

Adéagbos Archiv von wieder auf den Weg, wieder in den Umlauf gebrachten Subjekten und Objekten befindet sich stets in der Übersetzung. Werke zu schaffen, die sich in der Übersetzung verlieren und in ihr wieder gefunden werden, ist seine grundsätzliche Methode als Künstler und Aussteller. Wie Stephan Köhler bemerkt, bringt „Adéagbo nur etwa die Hälfte der Elemente von seinem Heimatland mit. Dann schaut er, während eines meist zehntägigen Aufenthaltes vor der Vernissage, was die Stadt ihm gibt, sei es an Fundstücken oder käuflich zu erstehenden Dingen.“ Das Porträt des französischen Künstlers Georges Rouault, mit dem Adéagbo einen Maler in Cotonou beauftragt hat, ähnelt in seiner Archaik Rouaults flächigen, schlichten, wie auf Glasmalereien mit schwarzem Strich gefassten Gesichtern. Und doch ist ein anderer Maßstab gewählt, und die Anmutung der Rouaultschen Pinselstrichs ist von der Art eines Zeichners aus Benin, sodass der französische Künstler neu zusammengesetzt, eher umgesetzt als umgeschaffen worden ist. Übersetzung nähert, was bekannt und was unbekannt ist, einander an, sie schafft eine Nachbarschaft von Original und Kopie, in der das eine das Double, nicht die Verdopplung des andern ist.

Zu Recht bewundert die Kritik an Adéagbos Archiv-Assemblagen ihre Erkundung von Logik und Lyrik unwahrscheinlicher Begegnungen: „ein paradoxes Feld der Fiktionen, die in den (post)kolonialen (...) Diskursen die jeweiligen Fantasmen über den/die/das Andere(n) mittragen“. Aber es ist auch eine paradoxale künstlerische Praxis, die gerühmt wurde für ihre „Zusammenschau, (die) nichts weniger (ist als das Vorhaben) Wesen und Ereignisse in ihrer Verschiedenartigkeit miteinander in Einklang zu bringen“ oder auch dafür, „gründliche Verwirrung statt sichere Bezüge“ zu stiften. Derlei Paradoxa, derlei Verwirrung erzeugen gewiss Unsicherheiten der Interpretation und Schwierigkeiten im Erkennen von Bedeutung und Wirklichkeit. Und doch ist, wie die Etymologie des Wortes andeutet – para = neben, jenseits, gegen, doxa = Meinungen –, dem Paradox die Wissbarkeit des Zweifelhaften vorausgesetzt. Paradox, Widerspruch, Nebeneinander gehören zu den einflussreichsten Zuschreibungen von Adéagbos Œuvre und werden häufig auf seine Arbeit als postkolonialer oder globaler Künstler bezogen, der im zeitgenössischen Afrika eine „alternative“ Modernität oder eine „schrille Postmoderne“ bebildere. So weit, so gut. Aber wie weit darf man damit gehen? Für wen oder was ist das gut? Sind das die Antriebe von Adéagbos Forschen? Sind das die Fragen, die uns aus den fortlaufenden Geschichten und rätselhaften Reihungen seiner Assemblagen, Recyclings, Revisionen, Klassifikationen, Kopien und Fotokopien gegenübertreten?

Angeregt zu diesen Überlegungen haben mich einige Statements von Georges Adéagbo und Harald Szeemann, die unter dem Titel „La colonisation Belge en Afrique noir / Die belgische Kolonisierung in Schwarzafrika“ zusammengefasst worden sind. Die am wenigsten nützliche Partie des Texts ist freilich das Titelthema, zu dem Adéagbo nicht den geringsten Hinweis gibt. Szeemann führt aus:

Ich muss sagen, dass ich ihn, einen schwarzen Künstler, auch ausgewählt habe, weil da noch immer diese Geschichte des Kongo ist, und obwohl Benin nicht Teil von Belgisch-Kongo war, so ist es für sie dennoch eine Vergangenheit, unter der sie noch immer leiden. Man sollte nicht denken, dass die Kolonisierung einfach so zu Ende war.

Nicht, dass Adéagbo nicht auch den langen Schatten der Kolonisierung, den postkolonialen Halbschatten, sähe, der sich noch immer über Afrika legt. Aber es ist doch interessant, dass er lieber impressionistisch über Berliner Mauer, Algerien, Indochina, Vietnam und die US-amerikanische und brasilianische Sklaverei handelt. Noch interessanter ist, dass er wieder und wieder auf den ontologischen Status des Kunstwerks und die „missionarische“ Aufgabe des Künstlers in der Gemeinschaft zu sprechen kommt. Seine Sprache ist die von sorgsam gestalteten Parabeln, Ursprungsmythen, Lehren und metaphysischen Metaphern:

Kunst. Aber was ist denn Kunst? Kunst ist eine Art zu reden. Es ist eine Art zu gehen. Es ist eine Art, Menschen auf indirekte Weise (indirectement) Dinge sehen zu lassen, um eben nicht ihr Feind zu werden. Denn was du dem andern sagen müsstest, um sein Feind zu werden, bringst du ihm auf andere Weisen (autres chemins) nahe, und so glaubt er, du seist auf demselben Weg (même chemin) wie er. Und doch bist du auf einem anderen Weg (chemin different). Kunst ist, alles in allem, eine Art zu sprechen, es ist eine Art etwas zu tun, es ist eine Art zu gehen, es ist eine Art, unter den Menschen zu leben. (Meine Hervorhebung)

Gerade diese scheinbar kunstlosen Sätze gestatten einen wichtigen Einblick in die physische, stoffliche Struktur von Adéagbos Arbeit (den Aufbau der Ausstellung) und ihre philosophische, phänomenologische Stellung (ihre Bildung ). Seine Installationen umlaufen die Wände des Ausstellungsraums und reichen bis zum Boden, umspannen die beiden Achsen Darstellen und Betrachten, gehen in die Vertikale und in die Horizontale, wenn sie sich der betrachtenden Erfahrung übereinander, gegeneinander darbieten: Wand und Boden, Leinwand und Bühne, Blick und Platz, Kunst und Ding. Sobald Sie Ihren Blick zu den Spiegeln der Wände erheben, wird Ihre Aufmerksamkeit von dem sich horizontal auf dem Boden Ausgebreiteten abgelenkt, das häufig mit Steinen fixiert ist, als wäre es selbst eine Wand, die sich erheben will. Senken Sie aber Ihren Blick zum Boden, fühlen Sie sich abgelenkt von der vertikalen Perspektive des Spiegels an der Wand, die Sie – obwohl Ihre Aufmerksamkeit sich woandershin, nach unten, richtet – festhält, hochzieht. Adéagbos Installationen bevorzugen weder das Vertikale noch das Horizontale; beide Perspektiven, Sehen wie Lesen bringt er in Umlauf, in eine Umlaufbahn, er wendet den Blick und richtet ihn, er setzt ihn und entsetzt ihn. Wenn Sie um die Installation herumgehen, hält Sie diese Spannung, dieser Widerstreit der Achsen, des Vertikalen und des Horizontalen, gefangen. Vertikale und Horizontale spielt er gegeneinander aus, als ob nicht gewiss wäre, welchen Weg der Feind, welchen Weg der Freund nimmt.

Das ist ein Beleg für die indirekte Methode, die Mittelbarkeit dieser Kunst, die sich bis zu einer anderen Ebene des semiotischen Streits in Adéagbos Installationen erstreckt, nämlich zum Wettstreit zwischen dem Visuellen und Verbalen, zwischen Anzeichen und Einzeichnung. An Adéagbos archivarischer Kunst ist oft das Nebeneinander von kulturellen Gegenständen und ästhetischen Genres ganz unterschiedlicher Herkunft bemerkt worden. Zu Recht loben Kritiker sein Spiel mit der Differenz, welches essentialistische Dualismen wie die zwischen Ost und West, Nord und Süd überwindet. Die viel wandlungsfähigeren und wirkkräftigeren Lebensformen des westafrikanischen und des indischen Basars können z.B. in solchen schlichten Gegensätzen gar nicht erfasst werden. Bemerkenswert an Adéagbos Arrangement von wahrscheinlichen und unwahrscheinlichen Zeichen, Objekten, Bildern, ist, dass er erkundet, wie aus der Nachbarschaft von Genres und Geschichten das Spiel von Verhältnis und Perspektive entsteht. Wenn er z.B. ein Buch neben eine Holzskulptur aus Benin stellt, die vor einem „gefundenen Gegenstand“ und hinter einer Handschrift steht, will er damit nicht bloß eine „kulturelle Differenz“ bedeuten. In einer Kunst des Benachbarten legt eine solche Abfolge oder Aussage vielmehr nahe, dass Differenz nicht das ist, was einer als den Unterschied zwischen eingeboren und fremd, heimisch und jenseitig, innen und außen wahrnimmt. Differenz entsteht aus dem Verschwimmen der Grenzen, aus der Nähe der Gegenstände zueinander, genau dann, wenn diese räumlichen und zeitlichen Verschiebungen in ästhetische, politische oder moralische Interpretationen übergehen. Der Rassist zerreißt den Saum des Nachbarlichen, er gruppiert die Dinge hierarchisch, nach rassischer Überlegenheit; der Universalist wiederum lässt die Differenzen zerfließen und kennt nur noch die eine allumfassende transzendente Kategorie des immanenten zeitlosen Werts ... usw. Wenn Sie sich im Gehen, Sprechen, Blicken von Adéagbos Arbeit die Richtung weisen lassen, verstehen Sie, weshalb er sagt, Kunst könne „Menschen auf indirekte Weise Dinge zeigen“. Ihre Augen werden sich auf die ferne, sogar transzendente „Mission“ der Kunst richten – „Nur er, der mich sandte und mir diese Mission gab und mich auf den Weg setzte, auf dem ich mich jetzt befinde, nur er kann Schlüsse über den Weg ziehen, auf dem ich bin“ –, während Ihre Füße im Schlamm der eigenen, selbst gemachten Geschichte stapfen. Denn Sie müssen auch Ihre Mission, wie der Künstler sagt, als eine Art, Menschen etwas zu zeigen und mit ihnen zu leben, begreifen.

Was begründet jene der Kunst wahrhaft ursprüngliche Mittelbarkeit? Bedenken Sie, dass Adéagbo auf jede Frage mit einer Fabel, auf jedes Konzept mit einer Parabel antwortet. Die Mittelbarkeit der Kunst erweist sich am bildhaften Stil, in der Verführung mit Geschichten, in der Leidenschaft der Rhetorik, im exzessiven Überschuss an Zeichen, in der mimetischen Sehnsucht nach Umschreibung und Übersetzung. Meine Beobachtungen am ontologischen Status von Adéagbos Arbeit und seiner „indirekten Methode“ führen uns zurück zu Enwezors Betonung der Kontingenz der formalen und temporalen Struktur und zwingen uns zu fragen: Warum fügt Adéagbo, in einer endlosen Folge von Gruppierungen und Umgruppierungen, das eine ans andere? Was drängt ihn, diese verwickelten Ketten von Sinn, Bedeutungen und Doppelbedeutungen zu knüpfen? Woher diese Leidenschaft fürs Wiederholen und Erfinden, die sein archivarisches Fieber, sein dokumentarisches Delirium, seinen Beziehungswahn entzündet und nährt?

Höchste Zeit, sich Adéagbos Begriff der Kunstforschung zuzuwenden – vielleicht ist das la question Adéagbo? Hier zwei seiner Schöpfungsparabeln:

Was wurde aus Adam und Eva, als sie die verbotene Frucht pflückten und aßen? Wer heute sieht, hat morgen nicht gesehen ... Die Forschung der Kunst!

Die Namen aller menschlichen Wesen und aller Tiere können in den 26 Buchstaben des Alphabets aufgefunden werden. Was geschähe mit den menschlichen Wesen oder mit den Tieren, wenn auch nur einer dieser 26 Buchstaben verloren ginge, unterginge?

Den Künstler in dieser Landschaft nach dem Verlust, nach dem Sündenfall, anzusiedeln, heißt nicht, den romantischen Helden seligen Andenkens wieder zu beleben, obwohl sich der Künstler-Missionar aus Benin so anhört, als wäre er von diesem Schlage. Fieber. Delir. Leiden. Adéagbo erzählt von seinem frühen Trauma, als seine leidenschaftliche Vision für Wahnsinn gehalten wurde, „und weil sie dachten, ich wäre verrückt, brachten sie mich in eine Nervenheilanstalt, wo man mir Spritzen gab“. Die immer wieder neue Suche, die Re-Cherche der Kunst ist die Sehnsucht nach dem verlorenen Buchstaben des Alphabets. Als von der verbotenen Frucht gekostet wurde, verdunkelte sich der Sinn des Lebens, die feste Bindung zwischen Namen und Dingen zerriss, Körper und Geist mussten bedeckt, mit verhüllendem Sinn umkleidet, mit Metaphern maskiert werden. Diese Vermittlungen entdecken oder bedecken die Wahrheit nicht, aber sie terrorisieren den Künstler mit Zweifel und Zwiespalt – wenn auch nur ein Buchstabe verloren ginge ... „si une lettre dans les 26 lettres parvint à s’effacer pour s’éclipser ...?“ Was durch diese Schuld, Scham und Furcht nach dem Verlust des Zeichens entsteht, ist Lust und Macht der Mittelbarkeit, jener Erfindung, die den Willen zu erzählen und zu bebildern, zu wiederholen und wieder zu erfinden begründet.

Die Forschung der Kunst ist die Mission, das objet trouvé wieder zu finden und wieder zu formen, dasjenige, was zur Hand, aber nicht im Griff ist, neu und nachzuschaffen. Der Künstler Georges Adéagbo hat seine Mission in der Re-Cherche nach dem verlorenen Buchstaben des Alphabets gefunden – nicht um seinen Verlust zu betrauern, denn das machte ihn zum Sklaven einer negativen Ontologie. Auf der Suche nach dem verlorenen Zeichen erforscht Adéagbo, fern aller Negativität, andere Sprachen, andere Vokabularien der Kunst, andere Traditionen des Geschichtenerzählens. Er zieht sie zusammen, nähert sie aneinander an, ohne sie deshalb in eine Weltsprache zu verschmelzen, und schafft so eine Kunst des Nachbarlichen, die keine der Ähnlichkeit ist. Er ersinnt neue Etymologien der Erfahrung, neue Sprachlehren des Seins. Neue Farben zu mischen ist seine Lust, und wenn aus der Re-Assemblage der vorhandenen Tönungen eine neue Schattierung hervorgeht, schimmert der Schatten des verlorenen Buchstabens am Horizont der feuchten Farbe wie eine Nixe, halb Mensch, halb Fabelwesen:

Nimm die Farbe Schwarz und mische sie mit der Farbe Weiß, du erhältst die Farbe Grau; nimm die Farbe Rot, mische sie mit der Farbe Weiß, du erhältst die Farbe Rosa. Le métissage de l’art.

Der verlorene Buchstabe der Kunst, der nun auch in einem magischen Sinn das objet trouvé ist, spricht, zugleich kiebig und klagend, mit der Stimme der Nixe: Ruf meinen Namen, mein Zeichen kannst du nicht erhaschen ... Die Suche der Kunst geht weiter und weiter. Weil sie dem verlorenen Buchstaben des Alphabets auf der Spur ist und nicht damit aufhört, Farben zu mischen und neu zu benennen, wird auch die Suche nach einem neuen Archiv weitergehen. An einem neuen Tag.

A Dimension to Explore - Georges Adéagbo as a Writer and Historian
Stephan Köhler


Adéagbo embraces the visitor who enters his space with a symphony of paintings, books, statues, found objects, books, magazines and dozens of newspaper clippings. In this ocean of documents that hint at their identical multiples existing somewhere else, Adéagbo’s handwritten texts stand out as personal and precious original messages. His handwriting in black pen is neat and obviously meant to be easily deciphered, almost as clear as in a first grade school book. Similar to illuminated manuscripts, he emphasizes the first capital letter of each sentence with additional turns. The text papers are mostly A4 size, never larger, and often cut freehand into smaller pieces. The arrows pointing at specific paragraphs serve as a link to objects displayed nearby. Adéagbo, who does not use computers, describes them ironically “like the cursor on your screen.” They refer to the objects surrounding them, their relationships frequently encoded, their references rarely obvious.. Such contingency is, at first sight ,an illusion: Adéagbo may move freely from one topic to another, even within the same paragraph, and the texts may be displayed feet away from each other, separated by objects rivaling for the viewer’s attention, but they still align like individuals in a swarm, held together by the artist’s investigative drive and his analysis of motivation and behavior.

While creating his daily installations in his Benin studio, in hotel rooms while on the road, or during exhibition installations, Adéagbo spends most of his time writing new texts and integrating them immediately into his visual narration. The need for written instructions seems to arise when he sees one object interacting with another. The question of why he writes so much, certainly more than a thousand pages each year, might become clear by looking at the themes he focuses on, the grammar he uses, and the way in which he investigates and understands the world. In his texts Adéagbo weaves philosophical reflections with episodes from his personal life, allowing Christian metaphors to appear without any claim of faith, historical events, the relationship between art and nature, the role of the artist, the political present and descriptions of encounters with protagonists from the art scene. In addition, as Thomas Fillitz described in his essay published in 2002, Adéagbo plays frequently with digits appearing in dates, number plates and exhibition titles. Numbers coinciding sometimes in their fractions, sums, or reverse sense become meaningful in Adéagbo’s world view as links between events.

In his proposal to Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director of La Triennale 2012: Intense Proximity, for a new installation Adéagbo wrote:”Un vrai créateur, ne peut pas et ne pouvait pas refuser à d’autres de ne pas créer, un créateur qui sait pour connaître ce qu’il crée, pour toujours laisser quiconque désirant créer, créer..!” (A true creator cannot and could not refuse to another not to create, a creator who knows and understands what he creates, for letting whom ever who desires to create, create...!) This message of tolerance is relatively easy to understand. However already when transcribing this short passage, the recurring loops make it difficult to keep track of where one is. The repetition of the same verbs in different tenses “peut-pouvait”, the iuxtaposition of similar words with a slight difference in nuance, “savoir-connaître” and finally, the implied and repeated imperative, “créer, créer” give this passage a spin, an auto-referential revolution similar to electrons in a cyclotron, gaining speed and energy, such as to finally yield a dynamic matter that can kick thinking habits out of their routine tracks to a different state. To speed up even more, let’s look at this part of the same text:

L’art et la force de l’art: j’ai à créer et à créer pour créer, j’ai pas à parler moi même de ma création faite, à créer pour créer à d’autre de voir ma création faite, et parler de ma création faite.. ! Création elle est, pour se voir dans la vie, qu’elle donne à vivre, création qui n’a pas de vie et ne fait pas de vie pour donner vie à vivre, n’est pas une création..!

Art and the force of art : I have to create, and create for creating, I am not the one to talk about the creation I made. To create for creating, it is up to others to see my creation realized, and talk about my creation realized.. ! [If it is] a creation, it sees itself in [with] life, that it gives to live, [and] a creation that does not have a life, and does not make life to give life to live, is not a creation.. !

The reoccurrence of the words “créer”, “vie” and “vivre” gives a rhythmic structure to the text, similar to a drum beat in a musical piece. It would be worthwhile investigating the extent to which Adéagbo plays purposefully with sound and rhythm in his writing, or whether the reader has this experience regardless of the unusual syntax and logical structure. After reading hundreds of texts by Adéagbo over the years, it has become clear to me that his thinking is aligned with the individual rather than the universal, and with the practical categorization of elements by virtue of their similar qualities. As if not trusting the agreed upon label for a group of similar or alike objects, Adéagbo repeats each individual phenomena, again and again, adding attributes that seem totally redundant, and superfluous. On the second page concerning his project for La Triennale, he repeats “La Triennale 2012, dans la ville de Paris-France..!” three times. Who needs to be reminded that Paris is in France? Being a nominalist excludes the use of syllogisms, which is the most commonly practiced shortcut in Western thinking. The common properties of the elements of a group are described, a phenomena is declared as part of that group, therefore it must have the same properties. I am not sure, if this logic rule taken for granted and governing western sub-consciousness, necessarily applies to Adéagbo’s thinking and writing. Being aware that syllogisms must not globally rule everyone’s thought-patterns helps enormously, in my opinion, to understand Adéagbo’s re- and re- and redefinition of each protagonist appearing in his narrations. His stubborn repetitions of seemingly obvious facts almost feel like a protest against the rationally compressed narration that is abbreviated without verification of the rules.

How history should be passed on, oral or written, is one of mankind’s ongoing questions, and one that comes up frequently in Adéagbo’s work and especially in his writing. Again and again Adéagbo weaves in episodes from his life, talks about encounters that were meaningful in both a positive and a negative sense. He writes the story of his life in a ritualized and elliptical way, expecting the reader to fill in the gaps and draw his own conclusions. The massive accumulation of “exempla” drawn from personal experience, biblical quotation, and the fables of Jean de La Fontaine, seem indicators that Adéagbo believes in Cicero’s often quoted words “Historia magistra vitae” (History is the teacher of life). Obviously Adéagbo plays with the question of what is a reliable source, by linking sequences from related events that others regard as trivial. The discontinuity in Adéagbo’s texts is so obvious, such that one could compare his strategy of resistance to the continuous discursive structure of arguments found in Walter Benjamin’s writings, as for example in his compilation “Die Urgeschichte des 19.Jahrhunderts”. Rather than “stating”, Adeagbo’s texts —like Benjamin’s Arcades Project — “point at” phenomena in an open constellation and avoid the pit fall of establishing a closed historical system that excludes alternative versions of the past and denounce the Darwinism of tradition.

So far, Adéagbo’s writing was mostly seen as functional and decodable only in the context of his installations. Reading more carefully, one discovers that the texts have their own dynamic. They are deep and dense, idiosyncratic, witty and disorientating to a degree; that they constitute their own world even though they are written in the process of making an art installation. The attempt to look at Adéagbo as a writer, a poet and a chronicler, separate from the context of his installations, suggests both the need for further research, and the promise of new insights into the artist’s practice. When applied to the writing of Adéagbo, an interdisciplinary combination of methods deriving from art history, philosophy, literature and cultural sciences with a focus on the dynamics between the oral and the written (for example, the research of Walter J. Ong or Jack Goody, among others), might lead to surprising findings. Last but not least, asking him to present his texts as a book of only hand-written pages would become another type of installation.

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