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On a dreamy midday, a sweet little thing was standing in front of the black elephant. She was intrigued. A decidedly playful look lingered in her toddler’s eyes. She was staring at Nomkhubulwane, a 1 300kg sculpture made from recycled rubber tyres and galvanised mild steel by Durban-based artist Andries Botha.
The little visitor was too young to figure out what Botha was on about, creating with his animals and recycled materials “metaphors of contemplation, catalysing debates around human and environmental sustainability”.
While her parents could read the catalogue and maybe understand what Botha meant when he suggested that the “debate is the human imagination creatively embodied”, to her the towering tyre pachyderm was pure fun.
Ilse Schermers, who negotiated Nomkhubulwane’s journey here to the Cape Winelands, would readily agree about the fun bit.
As curator of this first IS Sculpture at Tokara Delicatessen (to spell out the project’s whole wobbly title), she wanted to mix up the expectations of smart art and the easy-going location and, in the process, surprise and engage casual visitors to Anne-Marie Ferreira’s successful and popular food destination, The Olive Shed at the Tokara winery on Helshoogte.
A well-known and established professional in the art business, Schermers is all too aware that art and sculpture often intimidate. The idea with this laudable project, which features pieces by 15 artists, is to use the environment as a comfortable backdrop for visitors to look and think about art.
You can’t quite avoid some of the pieces; youthful Isabel Mertz’s magical Lilliput, Brobdingnag and the Unknown, for example. Her wonderous Gulliver’s Travels characters in bronze and granite have no other place but to be in your way.
Public art is always a complicated matter. The space around such art is never neutral, and striking the balance between the impact of an individual work and the distractions of the environment is but one of the matters a curator has to attend to.
In her placements, Schermers has been both quietly challenging and often amusing.
Our sweet little girl’s attention soon shifted a few metres to the right of Nomkhubulwane, where Guy du Toit’s giant rabbit in bronze seems to have landed from a visit to the moon. Long-ears is confronted, and so are we, by an enigmatic ball on the lawn.
A gloriously cheerful artwork, Amusement Hare, according to the artist, illustrates an upbeat Bushman story about the hare and the moon, about death and rebirth. “The piece invites your participation in a game of ball. Sculpture should sometimes challenge itself with a smile.”
Du Toit’s work is playful – a word that describes more than a few of the sculpture pieces Schermers commanded for this, her first project on the Tokara premises.
Over a healthy fruit drink, explaining her thinking and enthusiasm, she looks the part of the curator: funky jewellery, smart outfit, flowing grey-speckled coiffure.
The unusual milieu of a food shop-cum-eatery (the attractive minimalist building also houses Tokara’s olive processing facility) seemed to her like a special challenge, but also quite normal as she operates the art gallery at Le Quartier Française in Franschhoek, and ran a similar venture at Grande Provence.
Art sensitivity and the patronage of the Ferreira family are also important factors. “We have been discussing this for a long time. And we plan a number of serious exhibitions in the next 12 months.”
What this means is that sculpture lovers can look forward to garden installations here by Ian Redelinghuys, Du Toit and Egon Tania. These are important future projects.
The space outside the delicatessen has some children’s play pieces installed and these initially seem to distract from the “real art”. But then, as you negotiate the area, much of it falls into place.
Botha’s elephant could well be read as an extension of the nearby play area while the Du Toit hare and the carved horse head by Jacques Dhont may or may not be toy characters in a kiddies’ game that includes the restaurant’s upside-down man and hanging tree house.
The water feature is well served by the Wilma Cruise ceramic, while Dhont’s whalebone-like Ondine in marble just seems to be in the right place.
Young and old are sure to appreciate the wacky installation in the cordoned courtyard, where Nicolene Swanepoel’s Re-evolution of Animals, cute and scary ceramic creatures, has been taking place.
These pieces are sculptural art in formats that you’ve probably never thought about before. Which is exactly Schermer’s intention.
We return to the idea of the playfulness. She quotes the architecture commentator Charles Jencks: “The role of play in the creative process is to free up the habitual links between things and allow new ones to occur.”
Looking around at The Olive Shed, you have to hand it to the curator.
l For information call 083 626 9058 or 021 808 5950. - Sunday Argus