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Expanding the range of sensory engagement: A Q&A with Willem Boshoff

The launch of UJ Gallery’s Moving Cube in collaboration with the MTN Foundation is an important addition to the arts for a number of reasons, not least because it provides us with the opportunity to revisit, in new ways, one of the most impactful bodies of work to come out of the South African art world to date – Willem Boshoff’s The Blind Alphabet.

UJ Moving Cube online gallery Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff. PHOTO by Hélène Smuts.

Co-curated by UJ Gallery curator Annali Cabano-Dempsey and MTN Art Collection manager Niel Nortje, The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate, comes straight from the MTN Art collection to be exhibited as a new multimedia project on the Moving Cube. The project includes comprehensive video footage of the installation of The Blind Alphabet, accompanied by sound, photography and descriptions of the individual artworks in pop-up format, cutbacks to existing film documentation of previous exhibitions, interviews with Boshoff in his studio in Johannesburg, and music accompanying each of the 40 sculptures composed by Johannesburg-based composer and researcher Jaco Meyer.
     Creative Feel recently reached out to Boshoff to ask him a little more about the project, the Moving Cube, the nature of words, and making art in a time of distance and intangibility. 

‘Viewing art on the internet becomes a virtual experience and as such, arguably not a real one. We are denied the immediate pleasure of laying our eyes on things, much as the Blind Alphabet Project originally intended.’

Willem Boshoff

Creative Feel: The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate is currently being exhibited as part of the launch of UJ’s The Moving Cube project. Can you tell us a bit about the works that are on exhibition?
Willem Boshoff: The Blind Alphabet Project is a continuing work, designed primarily for blind people. It is a hands-on sculpture, its many pieces sculpted from a range of woods which are soft to the touch. Each word-sculpture is about the size of a rugby ball, easy to pick up, fondle and then pass on to others.
     In the hands of a blind person, each sculpture becomes a tool with which to explore the meaning of a particular word by feeling and so interpreting its form. The meaning of each one of these forty rather complex words, all starting with the letter B, is also provided, but only in the tactile language of Braille, which sighted people seldom know. The letter B works are from one chapter of a much larger work, a sculpted alphabet started in the early 1990s, which by now goes up to the letter L.
     In my Blind Alphabet Project installation, I try to get blind people to help sighted art gallery visitors discover certain philosophical aspects of vision or visionlessness. Most frequenters of art museums and galleries are artists, art critics and art students, who are ‘visually literate’ because they have received special training in arts appreciation. Blind people, on the other hand, need constant guidance and support to cope with things that come easily to the sighted. The average art gallery is not ‘blind-friendly’. This work focuses on that state of affairs. In the same privileged environment of the art gallery the Blind Alphabet enables the visually impaired to reverse the conventional set-up, by guiding the sighted and interpreting art for them.

Continue reading our Q&A with Willem Boshoff >>
View The Blind Alphabet in Motion
Watch The Blind Alphabet Docuseries

Navigate through our Moving Cube articles:
Willem Boshoff exhibition – The Blind Alphabet
Moving Cube – a newly developed UJ Art Gallery website
Mentorship, education and the Emerging Artist Development Programme – how to enter
Exploring The Blind Alphabet with MTN Foundation’s Niel Nortje
Curating context online: Annali Cabano-Dempsey discusses UJ’s Moving Cube

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