In May, 2011, I visited Stellenbosch to discuss the envisaged Twenty exhibition with SMAC Gallery. Painfully aware of the squabble over Afrikaans as a language of prerogative at Stellenbosch University, I proposed an artwork consisting of one word that makes some sense in both the English and Afrikaans languages, but of which the meanings in the two languages differ significantly. That work was BOOM. I envisaged this work to be a big gabion wall (a bulky wall made up of stones stacked in wire baskets) in which two different coloured stones would be so stacked as to spell out the word boom on both sides of the wall. The wall would be placed in Jonkershoek, a get-away nature reserve where romantic couples often enjoy sanctuary in the shadows of large trees and the spellbinding vistas of mountain cliffs. The wall had to be large and inviting enough to serve as a refuge for amorous kisses. The word boom, in English, is rather onomatopoeic and spells out the noise of exploding bombs, as in the big boom! In Russian, boom! is an accepted toast, like cheers! – celebration laid on thick. In a more sedate sense, boom is also a long pole, usually pivoted to go up and down to let traffic through. In Afrikaans boom is ‘tree’ a word that confirms my life-long interest in and respect for nature. I have tried hard to learn the names of all the plants I come across and I am not doing too badly. Boom, however, has another, far more stress-free meaning in Afrikaans. To the unperturbed it spells out marijuana. The more easygoing students would immediately chuckle at this usage and might even be tempted to slink behind BOOM wall for a whiff or two of the beleaguered stuff. I wanted the work to poke some light-hearted fun at the obsessive linguistic preoccupation of the frantic local academic fraternity. It would clearly satisfy them on one level and most certainly raise eyebrows on another. Unfortunately, or is it fortunately, I never got around to make BOOM, but there is every reason why I still might make it one day.
The idea that one can have words of the same spelling in Afrikaans and English, but that differ totally in meaning, stayed with me. When I was again approached by SMAC gallery in Stellenbosch, to have a solo exhibition in 2012, the memory of BOOM milled about in my head and I began to collect similar words. After more than a year I had come up with a list of two-hundred-and-forty words.
To stay with the idea of using the earthen substance (stones) envisaged for BOOM, I decided to use the sand/soil from the town of Darling, also in the Western Cape. I mapped out the words on small brick-like plaques and I asked my friend Andrew Munnik to collect the soils and fill in the words and their backgrounds on the plaques. Finally, I had a large collage called PLATTER ROOSTER providing a brick wall for the linguistically-minded to run into.
At the time I was convinced that I would not find any new words, but in the two years that followed new words began to surface, and when I was put to bed for months on end by an awful flu at the beginning of 2014, I had time to contemplate new additions. In the end the 240 words increased to 290 and in order to share the work with a wider audience, I decided to turn it into an edition of etchings with the new title WORD WOES. In English, this title laments issues dealing with words and in Afrikaans it instructs all to let go and be wild.