Our Offices & Partners Abroad

For detailed information please click on the offices and cultural centres below. For further information on the headquarters in Zurich please go to: www.prohelvetia.ch

Art Science and Technology Multi-discipline

Chimère Communities project [Geneva, Johannesburg, etc.]

AiiA Festival


Chimère is an evolving, community-based project conceived by artist Jonathan O’Hear and his engineer brother Timothy O’Hear. Developed in open source in 2021, during the AiiA festival in Geneva, this artistic and multimodal artificial intelligence “understands” text, images and sound in a linked way. The starting point was the desire, on the one hand, to create a non-human entity that could “collaborate” artistically and, on the other, to propose an AI closer to “us”, modelled differently from those proposed by the large dominant technological groups.

The AiiA festival of arts, culture and science explores how society shapes and is shaped by technological innovation. The motivation behind AiiA is to educate, engage and facilitate discussion and action around the local and global themes of AI through arts, culture and science. The programme looks at artificial intelligence, nature, virtual reality and society through the prism of inter-species collaboration, and asks: How can humans, AI, plants and micro-organisms work together to build a sustainable future for this planet?

In 2022 South African performance artist Qondiswa James was invited to participate in the AiiA residency laboratory and collaborate with Chimère. Her work focused on discarded objects and people, exploring waste and what we consider disposable. The result was a sculpture Salvage, a poem and a performance inside the sculpture. She also presented an installation-performance Ceci n’est pas un mur, about consciousness in objects. Qondiswa describes her experience working with an AI collaborator, “I found it interesting to be thinking about non-human entities, especially objects, whether naturally forming or man-made. I found it interesting to think about the memory these entities might retain, and whether I’d be able to – in conversation with Chimère – come up with a method to access these.”

During this time Qondiswa, Jonathan and Puerto Rican-American artist Maria Sappho began talking about under-represented cultural communities in Ai and in society, and how these two are linked. The Chimère Communities project emerged from these discussions with the aim of creating new, more inclusive data sets for Chimère in collaboration with different communities. “We were seeing large tech companies ‘solve’ bias, sexism, racism, diversity, questions by adding filters (censoring) to create the illusion of ‘responsible’ AI,” Jonathan explains. “We had also noticed that our particular interest in activism and experimental art were mostly absent from these models until we started adding them ourselves. No amount of censoring adds something to a culture. As we discussed this it was obvious that these problems were in AI models because they were in the datasets and that they were in the datasets because they were in the world. To us it seemed like the starting point should be society.”

Qondiswa organised a first exploratory trip in South Africa and Lesotho to meet and spend some time with the communities of experimental artists and activists that they thought would be interesting for the project. At this stage Lineo Segoete and Sello Majara from Lesotho joined the project. They held short hybrid introduction-demo-workshops in Cape Town at Magnet Theatre and the Free film school at Bertha House. In Johannesburg with The Centre For The Less Good Idea and Fak’ugesi festival, and in Lesotho at The Hub in Morija and with GEM in Maseru.

Following the success of these introductory meetings and with support from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, the group has organised workshops that will begin the collaborative process. Facilitated by Qondiswa with help from Lineo and Sello, the workshops focus on her experience collaborating with Chimère, the history of AI and the ethical and philosophical questions that surface with this technology. The workshops introduced the communities to Chimère in more depth and allowed them to begin formulating a long-term collaborative group project. This constellation of working groups forms the community of the Chimère Communities project.

From 10 September to 23 October 2023 Qondiswa will take part again in the AiiA festival at the Théâtre Saint-Gervais in Geneva. The artists will present the Chimère Communities project during a round table conversation exploring the many questions raised by AI, art and cultural representation and diversity. An exhibition of artworks made by the communities with Chimère will be exhibited at the festival.

Jonathan explains, “This is the start of a great project that will most likely include figuring out how to add languages and cultures, including animal and vegetal, to Chimère and also how we can function together as loosely linked cultures in shaping an AI that represents us and that we all want to create art with. It’s about human and non-human communities. It’s about collaborating.”


Jonathan O’Hear is a multidisciplinary Swiss artist. His work is often experiential and technological. In 2022 he founded the association de Malfaiteurs with Brice Catherin (an artistic collective of two plus their guests). In 2021 he founded and directed the AiiA festival with Laura Tocmacov (A festival focusing on the arts and culture of Artificial Intelligence). At the end of 2017 he launched the Dai project, (an artificial intelligence performance robot), presented in Switzerland, Ireland and India. The project is ongoing. Between 2013 and 2018 he was the co-artistic director of the contemporary dance company Neopost Foofwa where he co-created the Utile/Inutile project (2015-2017, with Foofwa d’Imobilité). His work has been shown at the CCS – Paris, Musée Tinguely – Basel, Villa Bernasconi – Geneva, Fonderie Kugler – Geneva, Médiathèque de Biarritz, Fluxum – Geneva, Analix Forever – Geneva, CAC – Geneva (with Ensemble Vide), Max Mueller – Delhi (with Mandeep Raikhy), and the Science art gallery – Dublin. He also gives workshops around the world on the use of space, light and technology as artistic mediums.

Qondiswa James is a freelance cultural worker living between Cape Town and Johannesburg. She is an award-winning writer and theatre-maker, performance artist, film and theatre performer, instillation artist, arts facilitator and activist. She has received her Masters in Live Art, Interdisciplinary and Public Art and Public Spheres at the Institute of Creative Arts. Her work engages the socio-political imagination towards mobilising transgression. Qondiswa has staged public art interventions at Infecting the City, Live Arts Festival, FNB Art Joburg, Centre for the Less Good Idea, Les Rencontres a L’échelle (France), Arcade (Makhanda), and Live Art Network Africa. Her onscreen appearances include High Fantasy (DIFF 2018 Best South African Film Award, Artistic Bravery Award), and Letters from the Continent (Holland Film Festival). She has directed theatre works including A Faint Patch of Light (winner of a 2019 Standard Bank Ovation Award) and her original play A HOWL IN MAKHANDA (Fleur du Cap Award 2022 Best New Script, Best Original Composition). In 2022 she was a resident artist at Le Artificial Intelligence International Arts Lab (Switzerland). Earlier in 2023 she directed Silindile, a site-specific theatre intervention about the lives of woman in rural Eastern Cape (Common Ground International Festival). Most recently, she has staged Retch, a new original solo work, as part of the inaugural season of the Kippies Fringe at Market Theatre.

Maria Sappho is a Puerto Rican American, originally from Brooklyn, NY currently working as an improviser, artist and researcher in the UK. Currently Maria’s work is deeply involved in experimental AI where she has an ongoing collaboration with the world’s only multi-modal creative AI named Chimere. Maria is a doctoral candidate at Huddersfield University, on the European Research Council project IRiMaS where she continues her work in advocating/platforming artists via her Feminist Free Improvisation Archive, (for women and non-binary artists), curating for Mopomoso TV (oldest running free improvisation series in the UK) and co-editing the monthly political arts magazine the Mass.

Lineo Segoete is a writer, arts research-practitioner and project manager from Lesotho. Her creative roots are set in storytelling and expressed creatively through photography and other artistic expressions. Her work is grounded in critical literacies spanning from media, history and curriculum and pedagogy, while her practice focuses on cultural production and the cultivation of creative heritage in Lesotho and
other settings through workshops and other interventions.

Timothy O’Hear is a Swiss mechanical engineer and founder of Virtually
Unlimited, a company specialized in 3D technologies for video games and virtual reality. In 2015 the enormous advances in “machine learning” or “artificial intelligence” allowed him to immerse totally in the convergence of computing, human beings and society. He then followed courses at Stanford, MIT and Caltech and developed his first neural networks. Since 2017 Timothy has been the AI engineer behind the Dai project (an artificial intelligence performance robot) and the AiiA festival. Today he focuses on the integration of artificial intelligence in companies and takes part in fundamental discussions on the consequences for our society.

Sello Majara is a self-taught photographer and videographer from Lesotho. He uses his experiences gained in tech industries to activate historical archives, document living histories and transfer skills to young artists through apprenticeships.