Media: Seeds of 330 plant species in plastic medicine bottles
Approximate size: 1750mm X 2100mm
Made in 1995 as the South African entry for the Right to Hope Project, to tour Egypt, Ireland, Bosnia and other places where debate about freedom political freedom prevails
IAN TROMP: IMBALI LITERACY PROJECT
For the right to hope exhibition, Boshoff has filled each of 256 medicine bottles with different kinds of seeds. Boshoff explains that the inspiration for BOTTLED HOPE grew from an unusual object a friend brought home from a fleamarket: a wooden tray filled with forty-eight small glass bottles containing beans and seeds. This was a botany student's class project, each different seed-type collected, separated, bottled, clearly labelled and enclosed in a neat wooden case with a lid that slides open and closed. Seeds are the most potent signs of life: they are in fact physical condensations of the vegetable life-force itself. Held in our hands, they seem to radiate this life force, whether they are solid and glow with rich, deep colours, or feathery and earth-coloured like the various kinds of grass seeds, or like the seeds of a certain kind of weed in one of the bottles - white and with a texture like unspun cotton. Each bottle is filled to roughly a quarter of its capacity with a layer of seeds; this is then topped with a triangle of another variety of seeds; the bottle is then packed full of a third kind of seed. The sheer number of bottles in BOTTLED HOPE can be overwhelming on first viewing, but the colours of the seeds draw one closer. Some seeds are tiny, and a few hundred would fit comfortably in the palm of a child's hand; others are large - the average child could only hold one at a time. Up-close, BOTTLED HOPE is a minute and detailed composition, each seed's colours strikingly or subtly different to those that share its bottle or are arranged in nearby bottles; at a distance the bottles lose their particularity and the whole picture plane becomes a patchwork of colour, the textures of the seeds taking on the appearance of brush-strokes in a painting. Each bottle looks like a tiny landscape, with the bottom layer's straight line forming a horizon from which the triangle's pyramid rises against the sky. In many traditions the triangle is a symbol of perfectibility - that is, of the possibility of refinement and clarification, a movement 'upwards' towards higher, more perfect states of mind and being - and this is how Boshoff intends it here, as a symbol of hope for a positive future.
Boshoff spent several years collecting the seeds used in BOTTLED HOPE. Some, like the Acacia seed, were painstakingly collected by hand from the wild. Others were obtained from seed merchants or inyangas, collected from gardens, or - like the mustard seeds - rescued from being eaten. Boshoff cored an entire basin of apples to extract a small portion of the apple seeds used in his work. He explains that in filling the bottles, the choice of seeds was random: he worked with hundreds of small plastic bags full of seeds (each bag labelled in tiny printed letters with the Latin name of the seed), randomly selecting three bags from his workbench for each bottle. Each of the more than three hundred types of seed appears at least once, and none appears more than three times. Boshoff says: "Seeds tell of untapped creative forces; of hope. Seeds are the words we sow. In South Africa the seeds of negotiation are sprouting into understanding and change." He points out that seeds can often survive in the most unlikely places; under floorboards, in tiny cracks in concrete, even in rocks. BOTTLED HOPE is about the divergent South African communities, which - though of very different local and foreign backgrounds - must now become united. When Boshoff speaks of his work, it sounds like a map made of seeds, sowing the many different communities now living close together. He speaks of the different seeds in single bottles as families which must learn to live together in small spaces; and of recognising that some individuals, like tiny seeds and larger macadamia nuts, simply cannot share a space, as one will inevitably fall through the cracks between the other - and yet, in separate bottles, they make fine neighbours.