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13 May 2008

ESCAPE TO ROBBEN ISLAND (2008) - a project by Douglas Gimberg & Christian Nerf

Courtesy of the artists



Opens: May 12
Event: (Buyer and Seller of Souls) May 20
Closes: May 30
Hours: Mon - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm

Contact christiannerf@gmai
+27 21 424 7436

35 Church Street, Cape Town
South Africa

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On the 21st of March in 2007 Douglas Gimberg and Christian Nerf began their collaborative project with the somewhat austere brief 'Build a boat, grow a beard'. Various exhibitions, events, interventions and intercessions, such as planting an apple tree in Paradise, translating Anton Szandor La Vey's Satanic Bible into Afrikaans and inviting viewers to engage in seemingly light hearted acts of desecration at their 2007 exhibition Carpentry 101 have formed part of their year-long collaboration, the climax of which is the enaction of their latest work, Escape to Robben Island (2008). On an undisclosed date the pair allegedly launched off the shores of mainland Cape Town in their recently completed, small, wooden boat, the angasi nkosi angasi nkosi and rowed their way to the former prison, insane asylum and leper colony.

Planned from the outset of the project, the annihilation of the angasi nkosi, angasi nkosi will re-enact the damage that over fifty previous viewers inflicted on the boat's maquette one month earlier at Fuckup in Gugulethu.

Significantly, the exhibition at the AVA does not display any concrete evidence of the actual journey to Robben Island. One of the easier interpretive alternatives would be to simply deny a rationale altogether and frame Gimberg and Nerf's undertakings as indulgent adventures, Scooby Doo type mysteries that dabble with the dark arts and the deep seas; playful pursuits that amicably expose the futility of art to those who take it all too seriously. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your personal predilection, this projective vision of two men showing off the evidence of their various maritime, horticultural, destructive and escapist fantasies for their viewers to actively enjoy is disrupted by the very obstruction that prompted its application in the first place. Gimberg and Nerf's employment of a deliberate and strategic exchange that provides one piece of information while enshrouding another suggests that the lack of information, of reasoning and explanation is not the reactive product of a hostility towards explanation (or even over-explanation) but rather of an appreciation of obscurity that is allowed to remain obscured rather than be substituted by silliness. The indications of an approach that is sympathetic to futility within Gimberg and Nerf's various projects are also, therefore, indicative of an ability to understand the importance of attempting to express the meaninglessness of meaning without feeling the need to giggle about it (whether nervously, sarcastically or in earnest). This is not to say that the work is without humour, the absurdity of the project, so enhanced by the insecure paranoia and obsession that its obscurity often provokes in the viewer, ensures that the benefits of self-irony are not lost with the rejection of frivolity.

The artists themselves do not motion to put the socially conscious viewer at ease, and it is perhaps the task of this projected viewer to grapple with their own questions of meaning, to interrogate the idea of the hierarchy between the blatantly meaningful (the things we are taught to care about) and the meaningless (the work of the devil).

Through their consistent refusal to spell out any sort of reasonable rationale for the project, leaving many things unsaid and others to chance Gimberg and Nerf have essentially created a construct that simultaneously proves and disputes itself through direct and indirect self-reference; a puzzling mystery, a complicated scheme, something completely pointless that one can spend hours thinking about. It allows meaning to be made from something that is completely meaningless in any reputably profound sense, provoking ridiculous discussions, agonizingly futile attempts to prove or disprove, idle banter and feeble debates; providing us, therefore, with indubitable proof of our simple minds.

The value and charm of the obscure is that it refuses to be resolved, the truthful answer, its true meaning, simply doesn't exist. This does not mean however that it is meaningless; pointless and futile maybe, but not meaningless – when pointlessness is left bare it translates, through interpretation, into obscurity, prompting a radical void of uncertainty that forces further questioning. The obscure is not inaccessible, it is not afraid of or hostile towards understanding and meaning, pointlessness is not a full stop.

Excerpt from text by Ryan van Huyssteen and Francis Burger

See further documentation at:
Documentation of boat building and beard growing
Knysna forest, University of Stellenbosch and Gugulethu