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 orientations were (and still are) used, especially in pre-alphabetic societies. Some of these methods of composition survive, often in so-called “educated” company of today, but it must be remembered that diviners are also highly ‘literate’ and educated in their field.

    Jean Arp (1887-1966) established new appreciation of the importance of the aleatoric composition in high art, beginning with his work ‘Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance’ (1916). The use of ‘chance’ in avant garde music, of for example John Cage (1912-1992), is well documented. Mark Boyle (b. 1934) uses belomancy when he selects locations for his artworks by throwing darts at detailed maps.

    I trust that this archival exhibit will highlight the overlap between aleatoric insights of Africa and those of Europe, and that it will engender an appreciation of the diverse ways in which random design may be used in the fine arts.





    The name INDEX OF (B)REACHINGS plays with the words ‘breachings’ and ‘reachings’. The diviner looks intently at a matrix of objects or substances, usually scattered about on the ground. He or she attempts to read into and interpret omens and signs from the configuration of things we perceive as commonplace – sprinkled salt, bees going in and out of a bee hive, scattered bones or a bird pecking at corn. The seer makes observations from the proximities and angles at which the objects are positioned or from the way design elements feature. Conclusions are ‘reached’ from relationships within the observed positions, from time lapses, light, proximities and trajectories. This first stage of inspection or ‘reachings’ is logically derived from the given abstract and deals with technical possibilities. At this stage observations are empirical and take place on the left (male) side of the brain. At a certain stage the diviner receives dramatic insight/s and goes through a kind of eureka! period. The information shifts to the right side of the brain where it becomes the observed constructs begin to ‘make sense’ in a new, subverted context. The diviner has ‘breached’ the enigma laid before him or her and can now decide how to communicate the insights or not. André Croucamp, a South African exponent of divination technology, compares the mental process of ‘breaching’ the diviner’s matrix to that which occurs when a good joke is told. At first, the details of the joke are understood in their dry factualness on the left side of the brain. No-one is laughing and story is observed with dry skepticism. When it comes to the punch line, the information shifts from the cognitive left to the right side of the brain with striking impact. An illogical twist occurs and the stream of information is disrupted from logical computation on the left. Those listening to the joke experience a diversion of current resulting in remarkable intuition on the right side of the brain. This short circuit causes laughter when the facts of the joke are ‘breached’ and converted into sudden incredulity and extraordinary quirkiness.







    INDEX OF (B)REACHINGS is a three-dimensional dictionary, so large that one can walk around in its ‘pages’. The installation is the result of careful research and of Willem Boshoff’s writing of a ‘Dictionary of Divination’, stage one completed in 1999 with later additions and stages envisaged. Although this dictionary was prepared as a normal book, its ‘publication’ – making it public – was contrived to be in an art gallery or museum, as an installation.


    Two processes of discovering obscure or future information by extraordinary means are recognised in divination technology – the intuitive process that speaks of altered states of consciousness as attained in a trance, dream or vision and the inductive process that relies on the examination of random configurations such as scattered bones or patterns formed by the spread of items like reflections and stars. Very often diviners rely on a combination of these two processes.



    Inductive and intuitive processes are recognised in INDEX OF (B)REACHINGS – the intuitive process features mainly in the displays on the walls and the inductive process mainly in the displays on the floor.


    Metal grids and bricks are installed for safety reasons. They also constitute  an aesthetic and philosophic grid. The bricks lend a sense of sequence, set in a formal order, like the pages in a book. The metal grids are divices of location, like latitudinal and longitudinal lines on a map or graticules within optical instruments. In this way the grids allude to the fact that the diviner looks for guide-lines by which to navigate and locate aspects of insight and truth.





    The wall pieces are all the same format (60cm wide and 91cm high). They consist of white, occasionally black, backboards often with sheets of transparent Pexiglass aligned exactly in front and bolted down on diffent levels by means of small identical spacers that conceal the bolts. The thicknesses of the wall pieces vary from 6mm. where there is no layering to 200mm. where the layering is at its thickest.


    This layering of the superimposed sheets alludes to shifts in levels of consciousness a diviner needs to (b)reach in order to perform his or her craft. To achieve this end items that inspire deeper insight are floated on Plexiglas, to exist in mid-air – in an ‘ethereal’ world. The objects and marks are predominantly monochromatic, in tones of black, white, grey, reflective chrome or transparen