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Wooden blocks, printed paper, safety-glass
Collection:the artist

Garden of Words I

  • GARDEN OF WORDS I is born out of a romantic fascination with the use of language in various creation myths. It tracks down the enchantment Adam had with the names of living things in Genesis, and it identifies with Hermes Trismegistus and his texts of creation spells in Egyptian cosmogony.


    Both these myths follow a Platonic order of events. They begin with an archetype, that is an apperceptive mental image of things intended for creation, - not unlike Kant's noumenon. In the Genesis myth this is a 'pre-ordination.' In both myths this idée mère or 'mother idea' is followed by an ectype, - an externalizing of the mental image. The ectype was exercised as a spoken language: "Let there be light." In Genesis Adam was asked to revive this language, but in the Egyptian myth Hermes locked it away, hermetically sealed as a covert script in his library of secret books. Concrete features such as the light, animals and plants created by the ectypal language are called prototypes, and, as the world began to procreate and duplicate itself, the subsequent features became known as stereotypes.


    In the GARDEN OF WORDS I an ectypal language is made to rise from the flower-beds ground blades of words on labels. GARDEN OF WORDS I follows Adam in his impossible task of reviewing the prototypal world and his identifying of all living things. Adam's fascinating and apparently futile attempt at shaping language was made when he was alone, with no-one to talk to, - Eve had not yet been fabricated, and Lilith had absconded.


    GARDEN OF WORDS I, in typical Adamic fashion, has concerned itself with almost 4,000 plants over a period of fifteen years in actual locations all over the world. The work is an ongoing seeding, or semination of their names, - the Latin for seed is semen. The seeding of words is committed to the earth under glass, a hot-house at the beginning of time.



    Last night Willem Boshoff was announced the winner of the FNB-Vita award for visual arts in the Sandton art-hall for the period January to December 1996.


    His work "Garden of Words, 1982-1997 (work in progress)" was unanimously chosen by the four judges, Frank Ledimo (Wits Technikon) Bongi Dhlomo (AICA), Okwui Enwezor (Artistic Director of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale) and Kendell Geers.


    Seven artists, nominated for the first time this year by the broader art community participated for the Vita-prize. They are Boshoff, Kay Hassan & Pat Mautloa (who were nominated together), Santu Mofokeng, Robin Orlin, Peet Pienaar and Tracey Rose.


    Boshoff himself did not think he stood a chance to win the R20 000-00 prize money because he saw his work as looking to the future, belonging to the 21st century. "This was an age in which we tried to find political solutions for the world's problems. Problems dealing with the environment and the destruction of nature will only really come to the fore in the 21st century."


    Those things that are being threatened, such as the plant species in his work for he Vita exhibition, are Boshoff's focus. For him the first step to preserve things is to remember them. That is why he began in 1982 to do research by carefully noting plant species in botanical gardens from London to Cape Town. This research is placed on clipboards in the gallery.


    "In Kirstenbosch I saw the files of plants that had died out, filled with pressed cuttings that will never grow again," he said.


    As an Adam of the 21st Century, Boshoff, to whom the world of thought is his gallery, wants to sow the names of plants metaphorically. For the Sandton Art Gallery he took 3 600 names, mounted on small wooden blocks from his filing cabinet and placed it on the floor, under glass, in twelve flower beds in a 'hot-house'. By the time the visitors become aware of this, the seed has, in a manner of speaking, already germinated, and are they looking at the work afresh.


    Adam was ordered to name the things in paradise. He named in an archetypal diagnostic manner. The names that emanate from a person are ectypal. Abraham, in contrast to Adam, chose the names of his children prognostically, forecasting. "I work with ectypes. I learn the names like a child and I plant the seeds or labels like a child."


    This work, like other projects by Boshoff, is by no means completed. "I find the idea of a work that is made overnight foreign. My work will only be done when I die," he teases.


    His making of 'dictionaries' began in 1977. He is about to begin a new task and: "I think we shall now befriend Latin because Latin words are being crucified and disqualified. When we lose these, we become disorientated and we lose also a great deal of culture that comes with the language."


    Translated from an article in:
    KALENDER, BEELD 15 October 1997

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