Willem Boshoff Archive

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The internationally celebrated artist Willem Boshoff has donated his comprehensive digital archive which is one of the major sources and documentation of his art works, to the University of the Free State to make it more accessible to researchers. The archive is the product of many years of intensely disciplined and wide-ranging research and documentation. It consists of archival records in three main areas – botany, language and music. The digital archives are held at the Department of Art History and Image Studies where it may be consulted, and large parts of it is also made available here at KovsieScholar

The botany section of the archive includes a large database of systematically ordered taxonomic documentation of artistic photographs of rare and common plants found across the world. Boshoff has expert knowledge of trees and of taxonomic photography and is a former Chairperson of the Rhododendron Society of South Africa. His internationally recognized series of art works entitled “Garden of Words” took shape gradually since 1984 when he started to compile a list of the 376 species of plants in his own garden. This was the first of thirty similar lists he has compiled by visiting gardens and parks across the world. Boshoff verifies his entries by comparing it to published scientific plant indexes. By 2004, his lists contained nearly 15,000 entries. It is from these lists, stored in this archive, that he created “Garden of Words”.

The language area of research and study collected in the archive is Boshoff’s well-researched digital dictionaries. Together, they consist of more than 18,000 entries, each with an explanatory lemma on the origin, history and meaning of these sometimes obscure words. The word lists include words, which look or sound the same in English and Afrikaans, as well as explanations of difficult English words in each of the eleven indigenous South African languages. The lists are sources of various art works, which evoke, amongst other things, historical language conflicts and sympathy for disenfranchised groups. In some ways, his archive aims to systematize randomness into accessible knowledge.

The third main area of research and documentation in the archive concerns music. Boshoff has collected an extraordinarily diverse range of musical recordings with accompanying documentation in various genres and from diverse cultures – African to folk and classical to contemporary. He has researched and documented specialized topics like links among composers, artists, philosophers, and relationships between audial and optical experiences in some works by Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brâncuși. Audial-optical relationships are also evident in Kykafrikaans, an anthology of concrete poetry, which was published by Uitgewery Pannevis in 1980 and collected in the Sackner Archives of Concrete and Visual Poetry in Miami, Florida.

These 90 conceptual poems in Afrikaans were typed on a Hermes 2000 manual typewriter, which functions like a brush or a pencil for the artist; they have also been recorded. The viewer of the work constantly switches between the act of looking and reading, comparable to the typographical experiments and sound poems of the Dadaists. The epigraph to the work reads “Jy kan met oë hoor maar nie met ore kyk nie” (You can hear with your eyes, but you cannot see with your ears).

Apart from these three major databases (botany, language and music), the archive also holds a collection of photographs of geological phenomena, records of various forms of divination and of course, Boshoff’s own meticulous documentation related to his whole artistic output accompanied by reviews and other research on it.


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