1996 - 1999

Jo Ractliffe


Jo Ractliffe writes:

End of Time developed from an experience while driving along the N1 in January 1996. At the time, I was making an inventory of the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back; a photographic exercise that reduced a 1 400km passage of South African landscape and the journey through it, to a document of seemingly endless blandness (N1: every hundred kilometres). But, like on all journeys, unexpected things happen: between Beaufort West and Richmond, I found three donkeys lying at the edge of the road. They had all been shot. This area is well known as the travelling ground of the 'karretjie mense', a community of itinerant people who travel with their donkey carts from farm to farm, seeking work mainly as sheepshearers. At the time, I could find no information about this incident and I travelled back to the area on a few occasions afterwards - an attempt to find the site, and something that might allow me to make sense of this incident. Of course, each time there was nothing; no bullet shells, or bones, or smoothed patches on the ground where they might have lain - nothing but empty space and my desire.

Three donkeys, shot dead at the side of the road may, in itself, not seem an event of significant proportions - politically or artistically. And while it was not my intention to take up the politics of this incident in any overt or didactic manner, I was interested in the implications of this experience; its relation to other public and private - and sometimes ephemeral - narratives around landscape, violence and dispossession.

When first presented at the Ibis Art Centre in Nieu-Bethesda, End of Time was constituted as an event of sorts. Billboard images were erected on the N9 and roads leading into Nieu-Bethesda, photographic installations and text works (collaborations with Mike Nicol and Brenda Atkinson) were presented in the gallery with video works projected at night onto the church wall across the street. Workshops in pinhole photography for the youth in Nieu-Bethesda and Pienaarsig also formed part of the event. Spatial and temporal sequence, the actual experience of the journey, was central to the overall concept at this point; one had to travel through the landscape and thus engage with that process conceptually, as well as physically, in relation to the works on show.