ERF 81 or the Tamboerskloof farm, an ex-military space and a site layered with historical narrative, is threatened by gentrification. When Andre Laubscher moved in together with his family in 1995, the land was turned into a farm and in the process a vibrant, creative community began to form where artists, musicians and writers set to work.
Moreover, it became a haven for abandoned children, a place for vegetable growing and markets, as well as a conservatory for endangered animals. However, the residents have been served eviction notices and Erf 81 is on the verge of a meltdown.
The UCT Michaelis Centre for the Archive with the help of Pippa Skotnes, Barnabas Muvhuti and Lyndall Cain, in collaboration with photographer Ashley Walters and residents Dirk Winterbach and André Laubscher, wish to fight for the plight of the farm and what it represents. As such, this show forms an important step in trying to prevent the appropriation or repossession of the farm.
To save this vibrant community, petitions have been signed and this exhibition therefore marks an important statement of social commentary or, more specifically, art’s capacity to address social issues.
In general, Walters’s photographs are crisp and clean. They exhibit, on the one hand, the vibrant life of the place, while on the other many images are illumi- nated by a curiously threatening light. Essentially, the light appears to be contrived, rather than natural.
In a sense then the photographs present a duality: the spirit of the people and the details of the environment, as well as an eerie light. Perhaps this reflects the current situation as the place is at once a hub of energetic, creative activity, while also seeming to reach a twilight where the future is uncertain.
The possibility of this bleak outcome is further represented by Winterbach and Laubscher’s sculptural installations of guns and masks, where there is as much a sense of documenting as there is a sense of vibrancy. They offer a depressing sense of loss and an attempt to arrest time as the impending future looms large.
The guns are well made, but not functional, so while the land battle is real, it is also fictional; that is, art is what is deeply celebrated in this space. It would therefore be a great loss if it were to be no more. In that case, art’s weapons became ineffective and the “real guns” prove unassailable.
One hopes that the farm will be saved from industrial and competitive markets, and remain a centre for art, an orphanage of sorts and a natural environment that supports its inhabitants.
One cabinet with many paintbrushes metaphorically alludes to the choice that is now faced: will Erf 81 lead to a creative painting in literal and figurative terms, or will the farm, like the brushes, merely be a memory and no longer tools with which to create and expand consciousness?
Walters’s photographs suggest that this bifurcation will remain until a decision is made. But what these photographs also tell is that there is richness to the area and its people that would be a great loss should it not survive.
To this end, the exhibition is about social conscience and has little to do with market politics and economics. It is a welcome break in a world where art is merely objectified as a good investment or pretty design.