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Word Launder

Item date(s): 2014

Kim Gurney

Medium: Found wage register
Size: 295mm

Sub-type: Altered book
Theme(s): Language. Site. Vernaculars of Urban Multiplicities

Place publication: Cape Town
Publisher: The artist
Exhibition 2017

Additional notes:
My art practice generally responds to disappearances of different sorts and makes restorative gestures. This has ranged from mixed media works commemorating people forcibly 'disappeared' during oppressive political regimes to largescale paintings about scorned urban space, visualising statistics of vulnerable species, sculpting and performing a defunct San instrument of communication from archival documentation into a sound art installation, and exploring financial crisis through word play. Most recently, I created in collaboration with Daleen Nel Hall a time-lapse film burning a defunct beehive to ashes.

In addition to being a slow maker of things, and engaging curatorially with other artists, I am a researcher and writer. Two book projects track the journeys of artworks as they make their way into the world. 'The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City' (2015) followed a trilogy of curated interventions exploring public space in Johannesburg. A book of creative nonfiction that climbs four floors of an inner city atelier is in press with Fourthwall Books.

Reference note:
Graphs of conversations printed onto the pages of a found wage register

Ink, graphite, beeswax, glue, highlighter

295 x 810 x 10mm

This artist's book, 'Word Launder', is a durational artwork made in response to language and to site. It engages ideas around work, time, and exchange. The artwork was made 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 an earlier engagement around public space and diversity.

The resulting artist's book, itself a work of performative labour, comprises nine chapters plus a preface. Each double page (or chapter) records a key word picked up from nine participant speakers in turn. I ran the word through Google analytics for its frequency in media reports. The resulting graph is plotted out across the pages of a wage register, already coded for farm labour with work 'in kind' factored into its columns. I then write out the key word repeatedly against this graph for as long as the speaker holds the floor.

At the end of each session, examples of media headlines using the key word are randomly inserted into this script. Related statistics are written up to the right, including the word's geographical dispersions. The artwork indicates among other things the difficulty of finding appropriate signifiers for complexity.

Exhibition notes:
‘Booknesses: Contemporary South African Artist's Books’.

FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg.

Curated by David Paton and Eugene Hon.

24 March - 5 May 2017

Ref: DP/17047

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