This artist’s book, entitled ‘Word Launder’, is a durational artwork responding both to language and to site that engages ideas around value and exchange.
The book was made in 2014 at Cape Town’s Platteklip washhouse, an historical place where slave washerwomen used to do the laundry in colonial times - it is a site of hard labour but also of socialising, according to archaeological excavations. The artwork was made in response, and parallel, to closed academic discussions by urbanists around ‘Vernaculars of Urban Multiplicities’. These discussions were hosted by African Centre for Cities and Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity following on from a 2012 engagement around public space and diversity.
Each page (or chapter) records a key word picked up from participant speakers in turn and run through Google analytics for its frequency in media reports; this graph is plotted out across pages of a wage register coded for farm labour, with work ‘in kind’ factored into its columns. The chosen word itself is then written out ad nauseum against this graph for as long as the speaker holds the floor. Headline examples from media reports using the word are randomly inserted into this script. Statistics about the word are written up to the right, including geographical dispersions.
The idea is to render the chosen words somewhat meaningless, both indicating the ineffable nature of the content and the difficulty of capturing it together with the slipperiness of language in a broader sense, along with the intent of the speakers to fathom new ground and find appropriate signifiers. It tries to subvert an indentured past and the labour-intensive form is a part of this effort.
The resulting artist’s book, itself a work of performative labour, comprises nine chapters plus a preface. It was exhibited on a group exhibition ‘Booknesses’, at FADA gallery at University of Johannesburg opening on 24 March 2017. Visit: Youtube video of Booknesses colloquium and exhibition. A digital catalogue is available: Artists’ Books in South Africa.