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Medium: Various types of sand

Measurements: 3320 mm (open ‘book’ format – left to right) X 2410 mm (‘book’ format top of ‘pages’ to bottom)

Early test titles: Lost in the Book of Sand, When a tree falls in the desert ...

History: November, 2014 – Exhibited at Oliewenhuis Art Gallery, Bloemfontein

Letters: Arial bold pt. 600

Laser cutting of letter stencils: Burning Curve, Bloemfontein

Book of Sand

  • Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein invited me to be part of their INQUISITIVE MIND exhibition in 2014. The exhibition aimed to pair fine artists with aspects of research and collections offered by the National Museum in the centre of Bloemfontein. In August I had the great delight to meet Ina Marais, librarian, curator and custodian of the museum’s historical book collection.


    Ina led me into a vault in the very centre of the museum complex, and in the vault she opened a safe to show me their most valuable set of books dating from 1648 to 1655 – Toonneel des Aerdrijcx by Willem & Johannes Blaeu. Imagine, books of maps from before Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape. The mystery surrounding these unusual books is partly brought about by the fact that no-one knows how they made their way to Bloemfontein. They simply seem to have appeared. The thick paper and the hand coloured maps made a lasting impression on me and I wondered how I might respond to this unusual encounter.


    In response to my engaging with such extraordinary books I decided to ponder South Africa at the time when the rare book was made, a time when no maps yet charted its vast territories. I was drawn to the idea that without maps and today’s GPS one might always be uncertain of where one is. To be lost, especially in a desert, with no hope of others looking for one, must one of the most terrifying human experiences. Because of this, I decided to make the impression of an open book on the ground in sandy materials, a substance as fugitive as our very existence – ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’.


    I looked for words that might describe the experience of being lost in the desert. One might, for example, feel that one has no future and so the word ‘futureless’ was ‘written’ down in the sand. Because no-one might be looking for one, one might feel that one’s name and very existence would be forgotten, and so I selected the word ‘nameless’. I made a long list of words describing to me in some way the things that might mill around in a lost individual’s head and from this list I selected fourteen words. To the one ‘page’ I committed the words: nowhere, absent, endless, nameless, futureless, unseeing and nonexistent and on the opposite ‘page’ I ‘wrote’: nothing, empty, disoriented, inexorable, impossible and nevermore.


    Willem Boshoff

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