Willem Boshoff opened this show filled with futile acts and what Kathryn Smith fingered as “the final insult”. Various exhibitions, events, interventions and intercessions, such as planting an apple tree in Paradise and translating Anton Szandor La Vey’s Satanic Bible into Afrikaans have formed part of Gimberg & Nerf’s year-long collaboration, the climax of which is the enaction of their latest work, Escape to Robben Island (2008).
FUCK ART LET'S FIGHT
Douglas Gimberg and Christian Nerf’s Escape to Robben Island (2008) represents a dismal failure. The angasi nkosi, angasi nkosi is cunningly presented as a boat; an object so seductive in its apparent functionality that various bystanders have attempted to try and convince the artists not to instigate or allow its destruction, but the boat is not a boat at all. The narrative strength of the actual ‘escape’ is similarly unsuccessful, instead of a simple explanation viewers are provided with a series of purposefully obscured fragments; a testimony about “boats and helicopters and the ferry and Robben island gets very close” is paired with a blatantly fake photograph and all too obvious patches of sea sand are left on the paddles and the hull. Rather than releasing a reasonable rationale and some concrete evidence (a few heroic group portraits or a video clip) that could verify the journey and cajole the viewer into believing in the legitimacy of the project Gimberg and Nerf scatter dead end clues that do more to convince the viewer that the trip probably didn’t even take place – a backwards logic that illustrates how one has to lie in order to avoid becoming a complete fraud, how one has to fail in order to avoid becoming disgustingly triumphant and how one can only avoid the pretence of the meaningful by attempting to express meaningless.
B – Logically none. Yet I speak of an art turning from it in disgust, weary of puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road.
D -- And preferring what?
B – The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.
D -- But that is a violently extreme and personal point of view, of no help to us in the matter of Tal Coat
D -- Perhaps that is enough for today.
Dialogue between Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit.
(Beckett, S & Duthuit, G. 1965. Proust and Three dialogues. London: John Calder.)
ESCAPE TO ROBBEN ISLAND
The phone rings. Douglas tells me its 5 minutes past 5. See you in half an hour.
Doug and Christian arrive and we are off to the waterfront to leave my car there so we have transport to Blouberg after getting off the ferry!
We arrive in Blouberg and its dark and misty. We wait for the mist to clear and in the mean time get food water and drugs for my ear infection and then get the boat ready for the trip. About 10.30 we run into the sea with our life jackets and the boat and start paddling …. rowing like hell. The waves are much bigger than we thought and we even get water in the boat. The waves are massive as we get just beyond them. There was no time to really be scared but it was scary! We are on the ocean and row and take pictures and video and row and Christian gets sea sick and boats and helicopters and the ferry and Robben island gets very close and with great excitement we arrive! We are met by different people and after talking and not allowed on the island and with sea legs we are told to take our boat and leave the island. A last resort was asking some rich assholes for a lift but no cigar.
We started rowing back distraught. Slowly but surely we got closer to Blouberg with luckily the wind behind us and the fear of getting to shore in big waves. The second half went quick and soon before I knew it we were in the waves and smaller than thought not so small surfed them to shore.
What a boat she is! Great excitement that this part of the project was achieved and congratulations all round.
barend de wet
ps. The long row to freedom and no freedom? Going on our own steam and not allowed in? Having to pay the ferry to see heritage site? Have to use fuel to heritage site? Conservation ??????
Circumstantial evidence 04
A loiterer took this picture. He had also been on Blouberg beach since early that morning. Later he, let us call him Rick, videoed the three of us dragging the boat down the beach. As we were about to leave Rick asked when we would return, we discussed it quickly and agreed on five or six hours. “OK, maybe I’ll be here” said Rick.
Getting beyond the breakers took us a mind-fucking 20 or 30 minutes with Douglas shouting “town, town”. Sounds funny now but I had no idea what he meant, eventually I shouted “what town?” All I could do was row not think just row.
Friday 13th, the eve of our Hell Yeah show last year, flashed through my mind- the price of Diesel was R6.66 a litre and Gold was $666 an ounce. Somehow that mattered. Then another thing struck and made me smile- master illusionist Crispian Plunkett was simultaneously making a composite photographic image of us heading out into the ocean as we were doing exactly that.
Once on the open seas I grabbed the bilge pump and started pushing, pulling, pushing and pulling. Nothing happened. I asked Douglas for his knife and cut the inlet pipe shorter. Still nothing. The boat was bogged down with water and we needed to get moving faster, I cut open one of our five litre water containers and it emptied into the boat, stupid. Scooped, chucked, scooped, chucked, scooped and then I lost my grip and the container disappears. Douglas and Barend were rowing as best they could. I cut open a second one, tied a rope to it and scooped, chucked, scooped, chucked, scooped… Damn, that was half our fresh water.
I hoped Barend got some pics of our entry. With the boat considerably lighter we headed off at what seemed like a rate of knots. I felt sick and wonder out loud if they would mind if I puked in the boat. I chose to turn around and share it with the ocean. Gulls were circling us like vultures. I hadn’t felt that way since I was into H. The next two and a half hours were a blur of trading seats, rowing, puking, filming, words and shedding a few tears.
I thought of my god-child Rubens, my family, friends and Kathryn who was flying back from London and wasn’t aware of my departure. It felt absurd risking everything in pursuit of nothing.
The ocean was not yet rough. We still had time to beat it. We passed container ships that would usually hold my interest simply because of their size, no luck. A few helicopters and small planes passed overhead. The mainland faded, as did my stamina. All this time Douglas was going like a Boeing and Barend was pulling faces. Robben Island seemed closer as I spotted the ferry heading in, we all waved back at the tourists as they took their photographs. By the time we rowed into the harbour the ferry had just headed out again as we waved goodbye.
At this point the wind picked up and we were fighting again. We headed across the harbour to a small pier that looked small enough to not have a huge ferry pull up alongside and crush us and we clutched onto it. Thank fuck, thank fuck it was over.
Sadly this was not the case- we were turned back. Other shit happened; I bummed a light off the coast guard, we tried to hitch a ride with Peter or Paul to no avail, we were given an emergency phone number in case of emergency, had a bite of an energy bar, sip of Coke and a moment to reflect. And then off we went for a couple more hours on an ocean that was now looking petulant.
As I recall this journey my thoughts cross to Willem Boshoff’s opening lecture at our show, probably because Anon has just come over for a quick bit o lovin’. I was quite taken by his stories but something bothered me- If the boatman’s boat is now fucked how do people cross the river Styx to leave these earthly confines? Have Douglas and I inadvertently suggested that the idea of having a soul is defunct?
Anyways, on our re-entry into Blouberg the national surf competition was cooking and Rick was there, I can’t recall if we spoke with him.
Christian Nerf 2008-05-13
An account - Escape to Robben Island 09 / 05 / 08
We had agreed to give Barend a call half an hour before we were to pick him up. I rang him from my place at 5:02am and went down the road to pick up Christian. We had the boat on the roof since the previous night. Barend followed us in his bakkie to the free parking lot near the pier at the Waterfront where he climbed into my car – Christian got in the back for the trip to Bloubergstrand. We left his car there because we anticipated being able to hitch a ride back to the waterfront with one of the ferries or the supply vessel in the afternoon.
We arrived at the small parking lot near the Blue Peter restaurant/hotel at about 6:20 to assess the sea conditions. The 5:30 weather report had said there would be a fresh N Westerly with a 60% chance of rain, the weatherman had floundered. There had been quite a gale on the previous Tuesday but the sea seemed to have calmed significantly since then. We left the beach and headed to the Engen garage in Tableview to get some food and water supplies for the trip as well as batteries for the GPS and smokes for Christian. We got four 5 litre bottles of Aquelle, some sandwiches and three energy bars. There was still a mist so thick that one couldn’t see much outside of a 100m radius but we headed back to the beach and waited. Some surfers in their twenties arrived and headed into the breakers a bit north of where we planned to launch. When the one that had parked next to us returned we asked him what the sea was like and he’d told us there was a lot of wash and that there was a junior surf competition happening that day and over the weekend. It was about 8:15 and Barend had overheard the loudspeakers at the surf club saying that the mist was expected to clear in a while and that the wind might pick up a bit.
We waited. Unloaded the boat and started preparing her for the trip. We put strips of initiation blankets (that Barend had given us late the previous year) onto the three benches and covered them in green gambling table felt that we had pilfered from our landlord at the studio. All was stapled on. Until then the only other steel used on the boat was the single coach bolt in the keel for securing the rope ladder. I also stapled strips of the felt onto the handles of our oars, the handles were quite fat.
By around 9:45 the mist had lifted and we started moving the boat to the sea and asked a middle aged guy who’d been watching us to film the first stage of our departure. We pulled her out and as soon as the keel was free I jumped sideways into the bow of the boat, there was nothing elegant about the maneuver. I started paddling and Christian and Barend pushed from the stern until the water was too deep and they climbed in from the ladder at the transom. I was paddling to keep her nose into the waves while the others got on the oars. We started forging a way forward and made it through the initial wash relatively easily but beyond that things got a bit tricky. There were sets of 8-11ft waves coming in through our “calm” gap in the rocks, the first of which crashed right over our nose and swamped us. We gradually inched through the breakers with me in the bow trying to steer with the paddle and shouting directions (orders) to Barend and Christian behind me (TOWARDS TOWN! TOWARDS TOWN! … Ok, we’ve got another set coming in - BIG WAVES, BIG WAVES! ... TOWARDS TOWN! ROW! THE OTHER WAY! AWAY FROM THE ROCKS! OK, ROW! ROW! WAVE! WE’RE GOING UP NOW. ROW! ROW! TOWARDS TOWN! TO THE LEFT! ROW! FUCK! Ok another two I think! ROW! …)
It took us just over a half hour of excruciating rowing to get past the breakers allowing me to take over the front oars from Barend, hence enabling Christian to take the back seat and start bailing us out, he had to cut one of our water bottles open for a scoop because the pump we’d brought wasn’t designed for the amount of water we’d taken on board. Almost immediately the scoop went overboard and Christian had to cut open another bottle, which he wisely tied onto the ladder (now under the back seat). When half the water was out of the boat he swapped places with Barend. We alternated between rowing with all four oars and just one oar from each pair. It was far easier for me to remain in synch when rowing with all the oars but Christian and Barend did not have the stamina to maintain the style for long on each shift. By about 10:20 we were in a position where it was possible to open one of the dry bags to get the waterproof disposable cameras out to get some shots of the situation. There were about six large cargo carriers anchored off to our port side, the nearest was around 6 kilometers South at this point. Christian and Barend continued to take turns on the back seat and we all took momentary breaks to photograph or film our surroundings. By now the mist had cleared enough that we could see the island ahead of us. Whoever was on the back seat would direct the rowers to maintain a steady bearing on the island, it soon became apparent that there was a gentle current pulling us South towards the anchorage. The GPS informed us of an average speed of about 2.4 knots for those brief periods along the way for which it was switched on, the temperature in it’s ziplock bag was between 17 and 18 degrees. There was a fairly long and gentle swell which encouraged Christian to relieve himself of the burden in his stomach at around 11:40, from which point on Barend spent less time on the bench and more time rowing. He probably rowed for about 65% of the trip there, with Christian taking care of most of the documentation. At about the half way mark we were joined by a few inquisitive or hungry birds; big brown gulls of some type. We continued with our routine of me rowing in the front and trying to maintain the rhythm and momentum while Barend and Christian took turns on the back seat until needing to rest.
At about the 3 quarter mark we first saw the tourist ferry jetting towards the island and at the same time the sea rescue helicopter circled around the island. As we got closer they passed overhead but made no indication that they’d seen us. By the time we were 500m from shore the ferry was leaving the island so Christian and Barend filmed and photographed the tourists in return as they motored past. Barend and I rowed the last stretch into the harbour, coming in very close to the northern pier to avoid any potential traffic. As we drew close to the island the N westerly had started to pick up to around 10 – 13 knots so we were glad to be in the shelter of the breakwater. We moved past the first of the concrete piers and saw a small low floating jetty, to port was a tourist ferry docked parallel with our path. We moored up and climbed off the boat and unloaded some things, drank some coke - the time was about 13:10.
Almost immediately we were joined by two of the island security guards and one of the NSRI pilots, the senior guard asked us what we thought we were doing and why had we come and explained to us that it was impossible for us to be on the island as we needed to have permits and that all boats entering port had to have prior permission and all sorts of other officious crap. He said it was impossible to come to the island without having to pay. We asked if it would be at all possible to hitch a ride with one of the ferries or perhaps the island supply vessel which Thando Mama had informed us departed each afternoon. By this stage his curiosity had entirely disappeared and his only priority was to get this strange anomaly out of his life. He seemed unwilling to follow the correct protocol which seemed to involve phoning the police and having us arrested, and having us pay for the boat that they would have to charter to come and arrest us. I think his words were that we had best just get in our boat and row back where we came from before the “big boss” was aware of our presence. The big boss was also once referred to as “the Owner” of the island and as the CEO. While we were in the middle of the end of our interaction with this moron another unannounced vessel cruised into the harbour – a monstrous, fast and ugly fucking motor cruiser, our guards immediately rushed off and we set off at full speed across the harbour to see if we could hitch a ride with this new offender in his fifty five foot fucking jetski before he too was sent off.
The asshole skipper of the jetski was there on orders of the big boss so we had no luck getting a lift back to the Waterfront, we did however get to meet with the big boss which was mildly satisfying if only because it would mean that someone might get in trouble.
We left in the wake of the monstrous motorboat and rowed our asses off for another two hours. For the return voyage the N Westerly had picked up a bit more, and fortunately was now on our stern so the return was a lot quicker than our escape to Robben Island, also we were greatly assisted by the now massive rolling swells that were heading directly towards shore. The last 200m of our trip was spent surrounded by breakers, I gave Barend and Christian a crash course in what to do should anything go amiss, something that was seeming more and more probable as we approached the beach. Abandon ship was the theme. As quickly as possible. There could have been some swearing. The spot we’d picked to come in, and our timing, couldn’t have been better. After one close call (a massive breaker crashing against our stern, twisting us almost 90 degrees to the next oncoming wave) I straightened her out and we surfed the next wave all the way to shore. We had just enough energy to walk angasi nkosi, angasi nkosi through the wash to the car and then it was back onto the roof and back to "normality".
“On the 21st of April 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 and translating Anton Szandor La Vey’s Satanic Bible into Afrikaans have formed part of their year-long collaboration, the climax of which is the enaction of their latest work, Escape to Robben Island (2008)….[…]… the obscure is not inaccessible, it is not afraid of or hostile towards understanding and meaning, pointlessness is not a full stop”. Ryan van Huyssteen and Francis Burger.
Significantly, the exhibition at the AVA will not display any concrete evidence of the actual journey to Robben Island.
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).
In the case of Escape to Robben Island, through the construction of a circular system, the provision of seemingly enigmatic structures (birthdates coinciding with important dates, number sequences that repeat themselves, testimonies that no-one can trust) the actual trip becomes real regardless of whether it actually occurs. The sea-spray, the ebb and flow of the tide, the slap of the paddles as they hit the ocean, the triumph of reaching the shore, the sandy toes – the power of the fantasy is such that its actuality is unimportant; and such is life. As the psychoanalytic theorist Slavoj Žižek so succinctly explains “what is missed by the cynic who believes only his eyes is the efficiency of the symbolic fiction, the way this fiction structures our reality”.(See Žižek 2006, How to read Lacan. Granta: London. pg 35).
On Wed, May 14, 2008 at 9:32 AM, andrewputter wrote:
andrewputter: hey intrepid escaper: have you managed to leave yet?
9:13 AM me: we went on friday, show is up, all done
9:14 AM we would not have managed without barend
9:15 AM andrewputter: fuckin' A! and you're alive to tell the tale... gee... i'm helluva impressed...
9:16 AM did barend go out with you on the wild ocean?
me: barend was our third party, he and i shared work. i was puking, it was bad
i loved it
9:17 AM andrewputter: any pix up anywhere?
9:18 AM me: 2666 blog- crispians composite
i will mail you something now
9:20 AM andrewputter: just looking at the studio blog now...
9:22 AM and willem's speech rocked
9:24 AM andrewputter: oh congratulations! i'm blown away. it's like chris burden being fucked by jackass.