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Mixed Media Installation

Index of B(r)eachings



    * is an exhibition of substances and processes used by diviners and healers such as shamans, druids, babaláwos and sangomas

    * is a three-dimensional dictionary with the ‘pages’ laid out as rectangles on the floor and walls and with ‘readers’ walking around inside a ‘book’

    * presents the nomenclature of documented practises of divination in Europe and Africa, an undertaking that can be expanded to include other parts of the world

    * offers a valid technology that uses chance effects to evoke meditation and understanding

    * looks at ways of interpreting artworks and music in a divergent manner

    * is a project in progress and is subject to refinement, expansion and change

    * has been exhibited to good effect at MuseMAfrica, Johannesburg, as part of the Urban Futures exposition in 2000

    * Has won the Aardklop 2000 award at the Aardklop arts festival in the university city of Potchefstroom

    * is the brainchild of artist Willem Boshoff who has included aleatoric (incidence interacting with coincidence) practises in his lifestyle and art making since 1972 and who has written dictionaries since 1977



    An installatioin consisting of 90 exhibits of mixed media such as live animals, animal entrails and body parts, plants, smoke, liquids, soils, diagrams etc.


    1. 1999 Completion of ‘Dictionary of Divination’, a research document by Willem Boshoff

    2. 2000 Installation as part of URBAN FUTURES exhibition at MuseuMAfrica, Johannesburg

    Artist, project leader and copyright: Willem Boshoff

    Research assistant:  Maja Pfeiffer (Marx);

    Technical assistants: Dylan Graham, Cobus Haupt, Asha Roux

    Interactive CD: Professor Rory Doepel, University of the Witwatersrand

    3. 2000 Installation at Aardklop 2000, Potchefstroom, wins Aardvark Award, the festival prize

    4. 2008 New installation in progress

    Artist, project leader and copyright: Willem Boshoff

    Further research and conceptual input: Miranthe van Staden

    Search for exhibition venue/s and cooperation with fellow researchers

    Awaits support to publish the project in book form or on the internet


    This installation reflects on the divination practices of Europe and Africa. It pays respect to the secrets of well established cultural practices. The ongoing project is a three-dimensional ‘index’ or dictionary of divination.

    Due to the sensitive and sacred nature of many of the divination customs, the emphasis is on raw materials and general ideas and not on the revealing of truth. On the floor is laid out various unprocessed substances and objects used by diviners and on the walls fleeting images of mental activity are alluded to.

    The ambiguity of (b)reachings in the title points to attempts by diviners to read and interpret omens and signs beyond things we normally perceive, but it also hopes to expose a sense, either of transgressing against, or of common agreement in, the rites and social territory extant in the ancient and modern histories of Europe and Africa. People of European descent find it increasingly important to look at Africa to rediscover aspects of their western history lost in time. In as much as the distant prehistory of European and African societies display strong similarities, we stand to benefit from exploring the relative connections. Mutual progress depends wholly on recognising such shared interests and capabilities.

    The mistaken belief is that divination in Africa is of fearful, grisly and barbaric nature. However, most of the crude and ‘offensive’ substances in INDEX OF (B)REACHINGS hail from Europe and were in use for a long time. Written accounts of the nature of divination in Europe are very graphic. The scorched donkey’s head sprinkled with flour (cephaleonomancy), was still used in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century! Some of the more pristine, geometric work on the walls might often be thought to be European, but many African civilisations have complex mantic systems of which the configurations of pattern and structure require sophisticated skills of decipherment.

    Art historians and critics require well-developed skills to interpret art objects and images in a meaningful manner. They grasp for meaning in the visual elements of line, form, texture, light and colour. The mostly rectangular matrix of drawing and painting is the window through which they understand aspects of the human condition and the individual psyche. The diviner also occupies a position of social responsibility and conscience. Observations are made from the selfsame visual elements – but mostly arranged in a somewhat circular, rather than rectangular, format.

    Divination is contrived by two main methods. The inductive method is that of observing visual effects that are displayed in a random manner and the intuitive method is that in which the diviner enters into a trance state. Some might refer to this as an entering into the collective subconscious. Intuitive expression forms the backbone of the more expressive and cathartic forms of fine art.

    In the fine art and music of today inductive methods of observation and composition are referred to as a stochastic or aleatoric methods. In divination the aleatoric design forms an entry point into, and an interpretation and understanding of, what lies beyond – in Latin an aleatorius is a ‘dice-player’. The paradox of these apparently ‘haphazard orders’ is, like the orderly Hindu mandala, a gate or door through which higher states of consciousness are attained. I have researched numerous ways in which ‘readings’ of such coincidental effects are taken in divination as well as in the fine arts. Levy-Strauss refers to coincidence in configurations as the contingent of the co-incidental and the incidental. Such coincidental ori