I recently participated in a Druid Walk hosted by artist Willem Boshoff during the annual Free State Art Festival. My colleagues were kind enough to invite me along and on the spur of the moment I decided to join. During the walk we could tag along with the Druid as he explored an abandoned warehouse in Bloemfontein. There he spends his time in search of nymphs, muses and other mythical creatures.
This is part of a larger process where he photographs details and elements of junkyards, old buildings, rubbish dumps, city streets, and so on, in search of beauty. This is only a small part of his much larger body of work. He also focuses on trees and is perhaps best known for his sculpture. He has hosted several of these walks around the world, and in this case a warehouse on the grounds of Transnet was the choice to explore.
As the Big Druid, Willem discusses his process before the group sets off, but then requests silence as the space is explored. The group was obligingly quiet, and it was interesting how we suddenly behaved as if we were in a gallery space. The presence of the artist, and his ability to frame something as a work of art, made us react by experiencing (or trying to) the derelict workshop as an exhibition. As he took photos of discarded timber or unused machines, we tried in turn, phones in hand, to discover these details of beauty. For about an hour we stepped in the dust, moving carefully around the debris of an unused workshop. As if it had suddenly become an art installation, we moved while trying not to disturb the artist or the ‘exhibit’.
This experience links with my ongoing thoughts on gallery spaces and the way buildings become frames for works of art and institutions. It was interesting to see how a derelict building is suddenly given significance through the presence of an artist. The space becomes a place where the gaze of the audience searches for aesthetics, meaning or presence. The spirit of the place was described as sad and nostalgic, even though it must have been use only a fear years ago. A calendar from as recent as 2013 hangs on the wall. Notes on the blackboard have not been erased. Some of the smaller tools show evidence of occasional use.I wonder how this space would be experienced by the same group without the frame of the artist and the intention of finding something linked to art. For those who work on the site, it seems to be something of a junkyard or storeroom with little more significance than to perhaps use some of the drills or saws for a small personal project. Family photos and pictures of furniture show the traces of people who did see this place as something meaningful. Something that is not as ‘sad’ as one of the participants described it.
I found a few interesting moments on a cell phone screen. The frame I took with me, gave me some inspiration. I found some beauty in the light and reference to other artists.