1990 - present

Wood steel aluminium (36 wooden forms from the letter B)
Dimensions variable
Collection: MTN Art Collection

Blind Alphabet

  • In my BLIND ALPHABET installations, I try to get blind people to help sighted visitors to discover certain philosophical aspects of their vision/visionlessness. Most frequenters of art galleries are artists, art critics and art students, who are 'visually aware/literate' because they have received special training in visual appreciation. Blind people, on the other hand, need constant guidance and attention to cope with things that come easily to the sighted. Your average art gallery is not 'blind-friendly'. This work focuses on that state of affairs, and enables English-speaking blind people to reverse the pattern and guide the sighted in the privileged environment of the art gallery.

     

    I am Afrikaans. Although my family history infused in me a revulsion for everything to do with the British, I decided in my twenties that I should seek reconciliation. I realised that it would help considerably if I acquired a good command of the English language. I studied at an English institution, and when I had qualified, I taught at English high schools and an English-medium Technikon. I read incessantly, and amassed a considerable library of books on philosophy, theology, art and music. I memorised the King James version of the New Testament, married an English girl and fathered two English-speaking children. I also improved my vocabulary by completing a cryptic English crossword puzzle daily, as I have done ever since. I wrote a dictionary of colour terms in 1977, and started compiling lists of thousands of plants in 1982, so 'dealing with (the) English' became both a challenge and a diversion.

     

    But one can change only so far. I retained an Afrikaans-English accent, and suspected that some of my English-speaking colleagues at Parktown Boys' viewed this as a sure sign of stupidity. To earn their respect, I began to extend my English vocabulary in earnest by compiling lists of perplexing English words. I had a great love for language, especially Latin and Greek. I eventually collected about 10 000 difficult words by reading through all the dictionaries I could find (I now have over 200 dictionaries).

     

    Conversations in the school staff-room turned into great fun. I was constantly laying traps and pulling off verbal stunts. My colleagues tried to test me, but I was usually able to win those contests. I lost a few friends, but some of my fellow teachers began to realise that intellectual proficiency did not necessarily go hand in hand with accent, skin or nationality. This is a valuable lesson to learn if one wants to respect the inherent gifts and values of people one does not understand very well.

    I wanted to extend my language game to other activities, including the artmaking process. Carrying on the theme of reversing expectations, I decided to make an art installation that would enable blind people to function as gifted experts instructing disenfranchised sighted people. In this way