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Willem Boshoff

32 Old dental mouthcasts on handmade paper

1140 mm (width) X 2090 mm (height)


  • For most, to be speechless is to stand in awe or to be so surprised that the faculty of speech disappears.


    When I am nervous I tend to talk too much. The more nervous I get, the more my head spins and the more nonsense I talk, and the more I lapse into crazy word salads.


    When sitting back in the dentist’s chair I am usually very nervous. Typically, I experience the urge to drift into uninhibited logorrhea. The frustrating thing then is that my otherwise occupied mouth does not allow any speech and I sit there, dumbstruck and irritated.


    There are many forms of speech. In a monologue one speaks to oneself, in a dialogue one is in conversation with someone else. Thaumatoloquy is such powerful speech that it conjures up miracles. An altiloquent orator is somewhat supercilious, lofty and speaks down to an audience. The sialoquent speaker speaks in such a carefree manner as to spray his or her audience with spittle. In Greek sialon is ‘saliva’ and in Latin loqui is ‘to speak’.


    We are used to speaking freely, not always thinking that our speech might be offensive or at least unpleasant to others. Some religious orders are so concerned to be harmless in speech as to take a vow of silence.


    I am told that arachibutyrophobia is a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth. Perhaps this fear has something to do with the fact that when one’s mouth is blocked-up, speech is so impossible one can’t even call out for help. Dental mouthcasts, locking up the mouth with gooey dental putty, are the most annoying mechanisms, muzzling movements of the tongue at a time when one is terribly nervous.


    I remember a time, when, in South Africa I was often censored from saying things I wanted to. Under the apartheid government free speech was prohibited. Many South Africans, like the poet Breyten Breytenbach, landed in jail for what they said. None of us were allowed to repeat the contrary ideas of our fellow citizens. At that time I wrote a self-censored book, BANGBOEK and made it into an artwork.


    In my work SPEECHLESS I think back on the frustration and powerlessness to speak when one has something to say.

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