Wilem Boshoff
Garden of Words 1



1982-1997

floor piece, labels consisting of printed names on small wooden blocks, wooden trays, sheets of safety-glassn

the work comprises twelve 'flower beds', six of which are on display dimensions of each sheet of glass: 2.1 x 1.5m (7mm thick), height of work from the floor: 25mm


This conceptual work functions like a book of loose pages. To accommodate the work in a small space, the 'book is closed' by storing all the loose 'pages' (labels) in the wooden trays. The trays are then stacked, like books lying on top of one another. When exhibited all or some of the 'pages' are laid out under glass. Different configurations of the 'flower beds' under glass are possible.

The work won the FNB Vita Art Now Award for the best South African artist for 1997 and was exhibited at the Reina Sofia, Madrid in 2001 in an exhibition entitled No es sólo lo que ves: pervirtiendo el minimalismo.

Garden of Words 1 was 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 externalising 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 1 an ectypal language is made to extend over laid down 'flower-beds' as words on labels. Garden of Words 1 follows Adam in his impossible task of reviewing the prototypal world and his identification 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 1, in typical Adamic fashion, has concerned itself with almost 4,000 plants over a period of fifteen years, collected 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 and end of time.


2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.