Interfacing New Heavens is an online and physical exhibition of work by George Mahashe (South Africa) and Vanessa Lorenzo (Switzerland) presented by the Javett UP centre in Pretoria, South Africa in partnership with the artists-in-labs programme of Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK).
The exhibition is the first public interface of a collaborative project that began in 2018 when the two artists were selected to take part in a 3-month artists-in-labs residency – Vanessa at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town/Sutherland and George at the Astronomy Department at the University of Geneva. Both artists were engaged in an immersive exchange with astronomers and had access to their research infrastructures, databases and methodologies. From this initial transdisciplinary exchange a continuous, long-term process between the project partners emerged.
During his residency, George became inspired by the realization that astronomy is not only about seeing the stars but also designing instruments that allow you to observe what it is that you are searching for. Within this concept he collaboratively developed a copper disk that functions as an object for scientific and spiritual observation. The body of work that took shape during Vanessa’s collaboration with the South African Astronomical Observatory SAAO in Cape Town and Sutherland utilized found rocks and sound interactions. Continuing this series, she has been developing VR experiences with artists from South Africa.
Interfacing New Heavens is curated by Sinethemba Twalo of Javett Up and Irene Hediger and Flurin Fischer of (ZHdK). The online exhibition will include two documentary films that provide insight into the artist’ transdisciplinary residencies and the evolution and initial development of the research process towards the artworks presented in the show. The artists will present parts of their research process in the form of sketches, images, working methodologies and other possible detours.
Interfacing New Heavens brings together two different positions that contemplate the entanglement of science, art and indigenous knowledge systems and their inquiry within the discursive terrain of astronomy. As the earth rotates and spins, existing in a cold and infinite universe, each life force has its own singular and intimate relationship with the sky. We transfix our observations towards the stars and to an unknown and boundless elsewhere. Looking out towards the cosmos is one of the oldest shared experiences, the significance of observing the galaxy spans over thousands of years of cultural practice whether religious, artistic and/or scientific.
The series of works by Vanessa Lorenzo and George Mahashe reflect on the potentials of these interactions and their affect on our present. Put forward as a series of speculative gestures, Interfacing New Heavens and its public programme, Other Necessary Fictions Too… deliberates on these two diverse and composite approaches, which interrogate and tease out an interplay between artistic and scientific research. The works contend with the entanglement of bodies and landscapes — both celestial and topographical. Contemplating its otherness and its capacity for wandering, artistic research is understood within this context as an unsettled and meandering engagement with and through the visual.
Working with speculative design and moving image, Vanessa constructs a non-linear narrative of future possibilities through an expanded technological exploration of space – both virtual and physical – and celestial objects. The project muses on the aesthetics and function of a bio-reactor that contains a meteorite purchased from public auction of certified celestial matter. Vanessa’s installation h0tsp0t4x3n0 consists of a “terrarium for cultivating a meteorite with its biological and mineral matter”. Deploying the ambit of speculative design as a contact zone and space for encounter, the artist probes the potentiality of a fictional relationship between this piece of debris and humans. The artist’s project includes a film essay in a fictional documentary format, the work is a DIY YouTube tutorial about Future Space Miners on Earth.
Employing travelling and the space of the dreamscape as research methodology, George’s project Lebitla la Ngaka (kgoši) imagines the possibility of a different relationship with visuality, in particular, the space of image making. The artist is interested in a contemporaneous inquiry of the cosmos and its affective implications within our imaginaries. Utilising the history and ideas of the Maphungubwe collection of ritual objects and instruments as reference, the installation interrogates the tenuous relationship between perspectives of technology in modern science and indigenous knowledge systems. The artist utilises the camera obscura to reflect on image making and practices of refusal within decolonial aesthetics. How might a focus on the camera obscura entail a different way in which we can think about images? George posits the idea of the camera obscura as a “possible metaphor and embodiment of the relationship of the senses.”
George Mahashe (b.1982, Bolobedu, South Africa) lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. He holds an MA in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town, where he obtained a PhD in Fine Arts. He operates within the wider field of photography, particularly at the intersection of photography, anthropology, Balobedu archives, artistic practice and recently Astronomy. George’s interests within photography extend from its implication in almost all visual arts practices, and its ability to transgress between the different disciplines of art and humanities. Besides his artistic practice, George regularly contributes to academic conferences and symposia, and lectures in fine art and anthropology at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.
Vanessa Lorenzo (b. 1985 in Barakaldo, Spain) lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland. She holds an Engineering Degree in Product Design (Mondragón Unibertsitatea, 2008) a Post-Grade in Product Conceptualization and Development (Elisava, Barcelona, 2010) and a Master of Media Design (HEAD-Genève, 2016). Vanessa’s practice is situated at the intersection of Media, Design and Biology. She creates fictional scenarios to contextualize the use of technology and DIY Biology through imagined objects; hybrid ecologies that usually embed the radical poetry of the more-than-human in order to affect the perception of our environment. Her research addresses the potential of design to influence the social imaginary therefore, she seeks to discover and develop non-anthropocentric landscapes and alternative futures. Besides her artistic and design practice she is an independent researcher at Hybridoa and co-president of the Hackuarium biohackerspace in Renens. She organizes collaborative workshops about critical, speculative and biological design, often with Hackuarium, Utopiana Geneva or Hackteria. Vanessa also collaborates with the Open Science School (CRI, Paris) and EPFL (Bioinspired Lab).