It can hardly be argued that Drive-ins are all-American, but here in South Africa, and only a couple of decades later, we were experiencing our own special brand of Drive-in; complete with frosted fibreglass ice cream cones, bus-blowing-up opening nights and 2m high dividing walls.
The first Drive-in in South Africa was built in 1952. Fifty years later and despite the relative success of Drive-ins like the Top-Star and Velskoen Drive-ins, which regularly draw large crowds, Drive-ins are dying a slow death because as Neil Young once said “rust never sleeps”, and yet they seem so alive in imagination.
For 6 years now I have been visiting abandoned Drive-ins to hear what they say about it all. Each one is different, a feat of the heart as confident and proud as monuments and increasingly as grave as tombstones.
I find myself attracted to the feeling of neglect, the slow decay of minimalism:
“…. It’s the kind of human junk that deepens the landscape, makes it sadder and lonelier and places a vague sad subjective regret at the edge of your response – not regret so much as a sense of time’s own aesthetic, how strange and still and beautiful…, lived in fleetingly and abandoned, the soul of wilderness signed by men and woman passing through…”
[ Don Delillo, “Underworld”, Picador p460/1 ]
This hungry ‘ghosts of the past’ energy keeps me going back. They still process a sense of magic though and in altering these images I hope I have given back some of that magic otherworldliness and at the same time allowed the possibility that someone else might have an entirely different view.
Drive-ins for me are the biggest Tabula rasas of them all and a coherent story of the inter-relation between reflection and projection, forethought and hindsight and dreams and regret.
This for me is the interesting thing about Drive-in History/Myth; Memory is an appropriation of history, and is intrinsically subjective, we are our own meaning makers.
When all else is gone all we are left with are fragments of history and symbols of significance, subjective icons of belief and pictures and memories of our place in the world.
“Recovering and recontextualising fragments of history provides one with an opportunity to measure ones present against the past”
[ Christine Dixie, artslink.co.za 11/12/1999 ]
In hindsight there are more important things, that directly influence our lives, than preserving Drive-ins in their original states. What I’m interested in, instead, is the implication of their neglect. This forms a large part of my own canon of beliefs that they represent in all their vast blank whiteness, infinite potential and magic, and that their gradual disappearance is symptomatic of the disappearance of something infinitely more important and vital.
Why in a climate of proliferating commercial billboards are Drive-ins disappearing? What has happened to the individual, creative, entrepreneurial, spirit of endeavour, where delight and value for money were still sustainable commodities?
They stand for me as rivals to the mentality of the multi-plex; they are the unique, absurd and antiquated symbols of the spirit of freedom, adventure and dreams.
These works serve as recollections to show that, in this day and age, nostalgia for Drive-ins is not misplaced.