A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
Afropixel is a reference event in the field of alternative technologies on the African continent. It has been running since 2008 and is organised by Ker Thiossane in Dakar, Senegal. The 2021 edition will take place online from 10 March – 10 April under the heading POWER TO THE COMMONS. Artists, curators, thinkers and audiences from the African continent and other parts of the world are invited to reflect on the need to appropriate technologies to act locally by opening the window to future commons. Through virtual residencies, talks, performances, exhibitions and workshops, Afropixel opens reflections on technologies and the challenges of common goods from the south, with the aim of addressing the ethical, societal and philosophical issues they raise.
Both the theme and format of this year’s festival respond to the radically altered experiences of daily life brought about by the global pandemic. The curators quote Cameroonian intellectual, Achille Mbembe, who says: “The corona revealed the importance of returning to communities, to their memories and knowledge, to their collective intelligence. It highlighted the essential character of solidarity between humans, but also with living beings with which we coexist.”
In addition to its West African footprint, Afropixel also brings together various partners, artists and collectives from our networks in Southern Africa and Switzerland who participate in different presentation and exchange strands of the programme. From Lubumbashi, DR Congo, WAZA Art Centre takes part as a research partner exploring the modes of operation of communities in Lubumbashi and nearby rural areas and the sharing of power, resources and knowledge.
This edition of Afropixel continues to strengthen ties with the South African digital arts festival Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation. The festival curator Tegan Bristow will be participating in the Agora talks programme in a session titled Art and Artificial Intelligence, where she is joined by Sabine Himmelsbach – the director of HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel], a leading curator of digital arts in Switzerland and Europe. Register here.
South African artist Nkhensani Mkhari, who took part in Fak’ugesi residencies (supported by our office through finance made available by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) in 2018 and 2020, will present their work Misava that seeks to refigure the digital as a site for radical healing and the manifestation of new metaphors of consciousness. Also presenting their work developed during a 2020 Fak’ugesi residency is the Pre-empt Group, whose virtual work raises questions about the panopticon and the stereoscopic as political encounters.
Two artists from Switzerland are presenting work in the programme. Marta Revuelta’s work AI Facial Profiling, Levels of Paranoia engages with profiling systems that incorporate artificial intelligence and explores the pervasive and invisible nature of these “intelligent systems”. Marta lives and works in Geneva. Her artistic practice appropriates and combines elements of scientific research in artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms and computer vision while using mechatronics, software programming and biometric technologies to investigate fundamental ethical questions regarding the moments of drift or misuse, the limits and status of these AI-driven technological artefacts used in the security and defence field. From Zurich, Mélia Roger is an artist and sound designer whose work explores the soundscape of media and technology by looking at the intimate connection between individuals and networks. Her work, THE VOICE IS VOICES is a place of doubt between an organic voice and its vocal deep fake. Also from Switzerland, Iris Souad, a young artist and environmentalist, will collaborate on a project in the residency led by South African artist Marcus Neustetter together with eleven other collaborators from the DRC, Senegal, Colombia and South Africa.