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Sentences Are Growing Out Of The Ground In The Cradle Of Humankind

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

South African artist and lexicographer Willem Boshoff will reveal his latest large-scale work this weekend in the Cradle of Humankind -- an extraordinary "living" sentence that is literally growing out of the grass.

The "You Never Know" sentence spans the 5m curve of one of the amphitheatres at the Nirox Foundation -- an arts organisation and sculpture park who launch the inaugural Words Festival this weekend -- South Africa's first literary arts event.

Boshoff, speaking to HuffPost SA from the park last week, explained the thinking behind the work -- one of many that the he will unveil at the event.

"The project started with dictionaries," he said, "I write my own dictionaries, actually, and I like to discover ambiguities -- things that mean more than one thing to one person. So, you never know, [they] can mean many things. It means that you unaware of consequences -- they might be good and they might be bad, you never know. Sometimes they can be opposite in their meanings, you know, you never know. So it's about knowing, very often, to empower us with knowledge."

"Having lived a life full of crazy things with Latin and Greek and... dictionaries, maybe I know too much? I've got to stop this nonsense -- so maybe the sentence is an instruction to myself? You never know..."

"Reading the Landscape" becomes tangible with the sort of landscape work Boshoff creates -- sometimes small, and often large-scale installations that involve nature and natural materials in some way, shape or form.

"The landscape itself is a kind of book," Boshoff says about another of the other works at the park. It comprises a circle of breccia rocks -- reportedly 50 tons of it -- that form a "druidic" circle around one piece that has been sliced apart to "bare" its contents.

"Rocks hold the earth's secrets and they watch over the cavorts of contemporary life from their aged position, having seen a lot of coming and going, that makes our existence rather insignificant..." a founder of the park told HuffPost SA.

"When it's sliced open, you can see what's inside this Breccia -- like a left hand and right hand page of a book. A professor was here the other day, and he could read it -- this is limestone, and this is that -- it [can] actually can be read. But I think the word book needs to be extended -- so we can apply it to other concepts we encounter."

Boshoff spoke about his experience at the Venice Biennale a number of years ago, where his artwork "Racist in South Africa" caused widespread controversy, with South African artists and media saying that the work decontextualised the history of apartheid, and the spate of violent crime in the country.

"I think sometimes people need to be spoken to in very unambiguous terms, because the newspapers don't tend to get through to people. I do sometimes make naughty works," Boshoff said.

"The work was intended to illicit such a response, because no matter what you do, no matter how hard you fight against crime or whatever, if you are white you might easily be labelled racist. So I did a work that said you can call me a racist, it's fine, but you won't stop me fighting against crime. And then they called me a racist," he explains, laughing.

"But the work must speak for itself. You must step away from it, and let it do it's own thing."

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