@CIRCA - JAN K. COETZEE: BOOKS & BONES & OTHER THINGS
Jan 31 – Feb 28, 2019
PROF JAN K. COETZEE
BOOKS & BONES & OTHER THINGS
EXHIBITION OPENS 31 JANUARY 2019
From the very beginning, humans have been living in storytelling societies. The earliest recordings of our stories are found in art and artefacts, and later on, in documents — the predecessors of what we call ‘books’.
Books & Bones & Other Things is a dialogue with a collection of books serendipitously encountered across Europe and South Africa. What started as a collection developed into a project to make the author’s own life, as well as life in general, more intelligible to himself and to others.
The books in the collection have two things in common: they are old texts, with considerable aesthetic appeal. These texts originated from, and bear witness to, the actions, intentions, motivations, joys and hopes, as well as the fears and sufferings of human beings. Each text narrates a story. But our ability to hear what they narrate is undermined: most are written in old, inaccessible languages. So, Coetzee cannot merely present these books; he needs to re-narrate them, to deconstruct and even subvert narrative conventions by presenting them in a way that evokes new stories in his mind and the minds of his ‘readers’.
He started critically inquiring into the aims, context, and content of these books by systematically engaging with the title pages of the texts. Only the title pages. Without studying the rest of the texts and without converting the original print on the inside pages to meaning and message, he set out to re-constitute the texts by re-membering them in relation to old stories from his own life and readings. He also brings these old texts into a dialogue with each other so that the collection starts telling more than what the individual books can do. In similar way to how a small private library in an ordinary family home can reflect something of the family, this collection of documents reflects something of Coetzee’s own roots as they resonate with wider social, cultural, and historical refrains.
In re-membering the texts, Coetzee unwraps new meanings and depicts them in creations of his imagination — in art installations that feature books, or ‘bookworks’ as they are known. The ‘bookworks’ explore the historical development of his society and its structures — religion, colonialism, imperialism, racism, language, identity and time — all steeped in Western thought and tradition.
This he relates to the books themselves, and to the sculptures and the religious and cultural artefacts that accompany them. He acknowledges that in these European texts the voices of indigenous peoples are silent and their values, laws, and cosmologies — their very lives — are largely discounted. This he shows — for instance — in skulls and chains. What survives all individual authors, all human remembering and forgetting, he shows in prehistoric fossils — a knowledge in the bones.