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by Nduka Mntambo

Decartographical Sketches


fig. 1: Preliminary cartographic collage. [2020] Image by: Nduka Mntambo.


Note 1—Tender mapping

You are here. Sometimes a dot, sometimes a red arrow; it is the orienting mark that your eye searches for once confronted with a Plexiglas panel map or a way-finding system in a shopping mall, or a strange street in a city, a  university campus, or the sterile halls of a hospital. The situating mark that reassures you of the immediate position of your body concerning time and space. The establishing dot that demarcates the spatial parameters offering a momentary respite in the face of dislocation and disorientation.

You are here, a fixed starting point towards a myriad of possible moves.

You are here…now.

A reader who is looking at the second line of the second paragraph of a document that wants to become a map, a map of the artistic worlds, which was fabricated and manipulated with both the enthusiasm and the uncertainty of a blind cartographer. You wonder about the usefulness of reading the map of time and space that you might have not traversed and might never again experience, except in shifty images and validating annotations and citations that you expect in a document of this nature. Maps, according to Bruno’s (2002:2) beautiful musings “are records of learning and they follow experience, they come into existence after the path has been travelled”.

You are here.

However, what is before you does not resemble a diagrammatic representation of physical features: it looks nothing like scientific attempts to render the spherical in two dimensions on a piece of paper. This beginning neither offer critiques of the Mercator’s projections nor of the cartographer’s paraphernalia, such as globes and quadrants. So why then retain the idea of the map as a framing device?

Perhaps a useful starting point would be to think about the activity of mapping rather than the noun “map”. If a map is a completed document, Abrams and Hall (2006:12) remind us that

“mapping refers to a process—on-going, incomplete and of indeterminate, mutable form. Mapping applies to plotting points and finding common terms of reference with which to analyse data: it benefits from lack of finality denoted by the word map”.

The agency of mapping, notes Corner (2011:225) “is doubly operative: digging, finding and exposing on the one hand, and relating, connecting and structuring on the other. Through visual disclosure, mapping both sets up and puts into effect complex sets of relationships that remain to be fully actualised.” The mapping practice in this document is less about masserting scholarly authority, epistemic stability, and artistic control and more about making visible the process and exploring new sets of possibility.

The composition of the article before you is best read by mobilising the three mapping operations: “fields”, “extracts” and “plotting”. Corner (2011:229) defines the field as  “ a continuous surface; the flatbed; a paper or a table itself; schematically the analogical equivalent to the actual ground, albeit flat and scaled”. This formulation includes the frame, orientation, co-ordinates, scale, units of measure and graphic projections.

The active mapping field you will be traversing in this document is oriented towards questions about cinematic practices and texts on the cities of the Global South. I survey this mapping field as viable modes of knowledge production within the discursive frame of artistic research. My critical surveying practices examine how we write and read particular forms of African urbanity from within. By this I mean, what representational and epistemic strategies can be employed to contest teleological and essentialist canonised narratives from elsewhere, which have historically characterised the spatial visualisations from above.

The epistemic invitation before you is merely one that asks you for a moment to enact the position of a drifter—to be part of the mapping of alternative itineraries and the subverting of dominant “academic” readings and authoritarian regimes of seeing. The terrain you are about to drift in is primed for wandering, as it is not composed of a single layer. Its palimpsestic topography involves the superimposition of various independent layers, one upon the other, to produce a heterogeneous and “thickened” surface (Corner 2011:235).


Note 2—Cartographic Blots  


fig. 2: Blotted Map Collage. [2020] Image by: Nduka Mntambo.


On material thinking

(Materia Thinking is ) an apt image of remembering beyond nostalgia. It captures the way in which creative collaborations individually create indistinguishable blots. It also suggests how, collectively, their appearance makes possible a new conversation… And it is out of these implicated processes that a third apprehension emerges. When it emerges in this way, it constitutes material thinking. Carter(2004:5)

Following Carter’s (2004) conception of material thinking, I think through the three processual artistic experiments titled  Prompts and  Projections: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten (2017); Store in a  Cool  Dry  Place  (2016), and Cinema is Wasted on Cinema  (2016). The three works emerge in this writing as blots, which disrupt the easy reading of the cartography of the cities the Global South.

In a foreword to Studies in Material Thinking, guest editors Rosenberg and Fairfax (2008) describe Paul Carter’s notion of material thinking as “the plots of all of those individual or singular journeys that have been taken intersect, they gather, coagulate and ultimately produce a blot on the map; a thickening at those points of intersection between the various passages. The individual journeys are arrested in the swelling of the blot.”

The following parts of this document are structured as blots in the urban cartographic enquiry and are positioned as instantiations that explore various visual forms of knowing. This structuring device—of blots on the map-— furthermore follows Sullivan’s (2010:159) idea that conceives “contexts of contemporary art and cultural production as expanding and opening new sites for research”. He argues for the potential of artists to be directly involved in diverse research communities, which means they take on increased responsibility as theorists. Moreover, the space between theory and practice becomes a site for making art and doing research, while positioning creative enquiries beyond disciplinary boundaries, cultural borders and technological divides. The artist-theorist makes use of the transformative power of art and resistance practices as a means of individual and cultural change.

Furthermore, I explore each of the creative projects around the conceptual framework by Paul Goodwin and  John  Oduroe (2008) in a  conversational piece of writing titled  “Revisioning  Black Urbanism and the  Production of  Space”. The set of questions offered me exciting entry points in the conception and articulation of my creative research projects. For the present purposes, I will consider two questions concerning my artistic practice, as articulated by Goodwin and Oduroe

How can architecture and urbanism engage constructively with “otherness” and “difference” within the fabric and wider morphology of cities? Can or should “Black Urbanism” be built? (2008:7)

Of course, Black Urbanism can constructively and keenly engage with the fabric and broader morphology of cities. Following Eshun (2003:288), if we take seriously Toni Morrison’s argument that the African subjects that experienced capture, theft, abduction, mutilation, and slavery were the first moderns, then the city is indeed the exemplar par excellence of modernity. Eshun argues:

African subjects underwent real conditions of existential homelessness, alienation, dislocation, and dehumanisation that philosophers like Nietzsche would later define as quintessentially modern: Instead of civilising African subjects, the forced displacement and commodification that constituted the Middle Passage meant that modernity was rendered forever suspect (2003:288).

This question is furthermore explored in the first blot—Prompts and Projections: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten.


Blot 1—Prompts and projections: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten


fig 3: Prompts and Projections: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten. Installation Poster. Artsearch Symposium 2017.


In my collaboration with theatre maker Mwenya Kabwe in the project Prompts and Projection: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten (2017), we toyed with ideas espoused by Eshun (2003: 288) of “establishing the historical character of black culture, to bring Africa and its subjects into history denied by Hegel et al”. Consider the ontological violence enunciated by Hegel when he wrote:

The peculiarly of the African Character is difficult to comprehend, for the reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all ideas—the category of Universality. In Negro life, the characteristic point is in fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realisation of any substantial objective existence (1956:93).

Speaking back to the Hegelian paradigm, Kabwe and I mobilised the colossal figure of Edward Nkoloso, a Zambian school teacher in the 1960s, who was convinced that Zambians were going to beat the Americans and Russians to space. Our project was a declaration to assemble counter-memories that contest the colonial archive. We predicated this artistic and epistemic enterprise on Edward Nkoloso’s speculative exploration of space travel within the rubric of Afrofuturism. Our mobilisation of Afrofuturism as a conceptual placeholder for our artistic experiment at the Afrikan Freedom Station embraced Eshun’s formulation of Afrofuturism:

as a multimedia project distributed across the nodes, hubs, rings, and stars of the Black Atlantic. As a tool kit developed for and by Afro diasporic intellectuals, the imperative to code, adopt, adapt, translate, misread, rework, and revision these concepts, under the conditions specified in this essay, is likely to persist in the decades to come (2003:300).

In wrestling with the aesthetic and epistemic provocation offered by Eshun and the possibilities of Afrofuturism, our project aligns the question of futurity with ideas espoused by Mbembe (2015:54). He argues that art is an attempt to capture the forces of the infinite, an attempt to be the infinite in practical form, but the form that consists of consistently doing, undoing, redoing; assembling, disassembling and reassembling. These ideas, Mbembe argues, are typically “African” and fully resonate with the digital spirit of our times.

Having developed the mobile icosahedron structures for multifocal projection from the previous artistic project, the collaboration with Kabwe brought performative and textual possibilities. Kabwe had been writing daily pieces of speculative and projective texts centred on the historical figures of Nkoloso and the female boxer Esther Phiri. Through a series of articulations and remixing of time, space and actions of the two characters, Kabwe’s writing weaves a Sankofaric text about various forms of African subjectivities projecting themselves outside the colonial/post-colonial scripts. Mwenya’s conception of these texts is captured in a letter she sent to me at the inception of our collaboration:

Dear Nduka,

Thank you for the piece you wrote on Chale Wote, I so enjoy what you invoke here, and Accra has a special place in the heart. There is also much obvious resonance between our projects, so I look forward to this process. Your opening quote from Binyavanga is on the money and the Spirit Robot merely is a perfect image. The following may also just become the beginning of a conversation towards what we eventually realise at our exhibition—A way of thinking/making “out loud” together. Firstly the speculative genre is relatively unexplored in the medium of live performance as compared to literature, fine art, film and digital media so I am partly trying to explore what the possibilities are for this genre in this form. I am also very much drawn to the migratory mythology in speculative fiction and the emancipatory politics at play—particularly in terms of African sci-fi. The “prompts” have also become a practice of thinking speculatively that have a particular kind of traction for African knowledge making. As pieces of performance writing (or something), they also try to reconsider the place of the written text for theatre—they [are] after all designed as prompts for theatre-making and yet, perhaps because of the genre lend themselves more easily (perhaps) to be interpreted in other mediums. Then again, they could also exist simply as text (for live performance). I am also keen on the conversation about the distinctions to be made between Afrofuturism and something else that might be called African Futurism.

I really like the scenographic dimension of your mobile sculptures. The kind of space that the structures take up and their quite literal function as revolving “stages” for the films. I plan to write more of these pieces, prompts, propositions, samples, moments, glimpses, raindrops… so we will have a more extensive collection to play with.

Mwenya


We started working in the studio with the icosahedron mobiles mounted and Mwenya performing the series of speculative texts. I projected images that I had been collecting on the field-research trips from cities of the global South (Johannesburg, Mozambique, Kenya, São Paulo, Arusha and Cairo.


fig. 4: Mwenya Kabwe textual prompts. The texts that Mwenya composed are structured around the notion of a chronotope Artsearch Symposium Installation. 2017


The selection of the space for presenting this work was crucial, as we had conceived the installation as an epistemic contraption/engine in which ideas might take flight. We selected the Afrikan Freedom Station based in Westdene, Johannesburg. The space fashions itself as a decidedly Afrocentric radical third art space, experimenting with various articulations of freedom imaginaries. The ethos of the space is to ask what kind of objects, ideas, creations can we make if we consider ourselves genuinely free. We conceived the mounting of the installation at the Afrikan Freedom Station in the vein of Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art (2013).

Toua and Miller (2016:190) argue that Gaba’s Museum, as a mode of artistic expression, is intended to challenge the canonical thinking and ethnocentric prejudices that have surrounded African art for far too long. In addition to interrogating the very idea of a museum, Gaba’s groundbreaking installation confronts the problematic Eurocentric impulse to look at Africa through an exclusively ethnographic lens without also examining, for example, widespread inequalities resulting from unfettered global capitalism.

On a much more humble scale compared to Gaba’s installation at the Tate Modern, we installed the work in the 4m x 3m mezzanine section, which is called Bantu TV— Angazi but I am sure, a tiny and contemplative space for audio-visual installation.


fig. 5: Installation View of Prompts and Projections: Tomorrow we will remember the things we have forgotten: Afrikan Freedom Station, Artsearch Symposium 2017.


Our installation’s programmatic intentions were characterised by the discombobulating presentation of mobile sculptures for projection; fragmented text offered both in sonic form and on actual pieces of paper scattered around the exhibition space. The installation was accompanied by live syncopated experimental piano compositions from the jazz musician Malcolm Jiyane. Gedye (2016) reflects on Jiyane’s innovative of utilisation of the midi controller in an interview with the artist, where Jiyane describes his sonic praxis as:

“… the beauty of not knowing” what things will look like when they “bloom”, and the beauty of knowing if you plant something and nurture it, it will grow. “It is the mystery of it, the avant-garde of it,” he said. “The soil is very generous”.  Gedye (2016)

Through the synthesis of Malcolm’s sonic experiments, Kabwe’s kinetic body/voice, the light/shadow play of city images and text projected on the mobile icosahedron, the installation evolved into a dense multimodal palimpsest text playing within the rubric of futurity.


Blot 2 —Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema: The Four Tyrannies


fig. 6: Cinema is Wasted on Cinema installation view of multiple video projections (2016)


If we have had 8000 years of text masters we now in a position to ask them to sincerely move aside and allow the image master to come forward, to confound the notion of ourselves. How is it that we have had over 114 years of cinema and still, I would severely argue that it has not yet developed its autonomy, its vocabulary, it still lives on the three phenomena of literature, theatre and if you are very lucky painting. Peter Greenaway (2010).

In this iteration of my cinematic cartography enquiry, I draw a substantial amount of conceptual and aesthetic inspiration from the English image maker, Peter Greenaway. Given my articulated antinomy between knowledge from the  global southern and northern episteme, it might seem paradoxical that my methods of working with audio-visual material references are indeed celebratory of Greenaway’s oeuvre, whose primary fascination is European classical visual arts. Perhaps the aesthetic discoveries of the final project, Asymmetries (2018), resolved or, at the very least, atoned for this paradox.

Bruno (2002:285) describes, in the section of her work titled “the Geometry of Passion”, “the practice of Peter Greenaway as a film director and artist trained as a painter and obsessed by architecture, the fashioning of space, and the cartographic enterprise that offers cultural mapping”. As a scenographer myself, I have always been fascinated by Greenaway’s articulation of the architectonic in films such as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), The Belly of an Architect (1987), Prospero’s Books (1991), and the sensual, The Pillow Book (1996). The choreography of his mise-en-scene in these feature-length narrative films, which is characterised by fragmented, multiple screens, calligraphic motion graphic texts, elaborate sets and costumes, excites me immensely.

However, it was in my interaction with his multimedia installation works, such as The Tulse  Luper Suitcases (2003) and Nine Classical Paintings Revisited (2006) that I started to take seriously, in my own practice, Greenaway’s provocation that cinema is wasted on cinema. Below I will share extracts from a lecture he titled “New Possibilities” (2010), delivered at the Zurich University of the Arts, Master of Advanced Studies in Scenography programme. The extracts and images from my film will illuminate some of my concerns that structured the experimental register of my installation work titled Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema (2016).

The work mobilises techniques of projection mapping and the assemblage of disparate audio-visual sources to make an argument for the architectonic possibilities of cinematic practice. Working with Greenaway’s ironic distrust of the textual, this blot of my conceptual mapping will privilege visuals from the film as a primary rhetorical device. I will also offer an analysis of this iteration through the prism of texts on digital cinema and experimental cinema; particularly the work of Malcolm Le Grice (2001) and Lev Manovich (1995). I will also mobilise Clara Mancini’s (2003) work on Cinematic Hypertext (CH) to account for how I conceived of the rhetorical potentialities of using projection mapping, specifically with the textual elements of the installation experimenting with the Isadora projection mapping software, instead of the usual linear film editing techniques.

The projection mapping Isadora software is an interactive media playback platform that combines a media server, a visual programming environment, and a powerful video and audio processing engine. It has a taxonomy of control parameters that consists of instantaneous commands/generators allowing the user to manipulate the multiple videos’ scale, horizontal and vertical positions, opacity, blending, layering, image tracing and tracking. It also offers an opportunity for the user to fashion the parameters of the image in relation to the surface that the image is projected upon.

fig. 7: Cinema is Wasted on Cinema, installation view showing the control parameters of the Isadora software (2016)


Greenaway captures the important consideration between image and the surface onto which it is projected in his “New Possibilities” lecture when he argues:

One of the things that I find perplexing is the way in which the whole activity of projection never seems in any form associated with the actual object projected upon. Projection as it regards to scale and as it views the architectonic can be attractive for all kinds of reasons. The notion of being able to programme activities away from the strictures of the famous Godardian assertion that cinema is the truth 24 frames per second, to be able to organise a cinematic programme, is essential. It is part of the language of mutability, the ability to continually change and change…(Greenaway 2010).

Therefore, the controlling idea of my installation’s visual programming was, in the first instance, to consider what might happen if I remixed and re-scripted the images from the diverse urban conditions of cities that  I had amassed during my research field trips and set up a multimedia conversation with the other contemporary films made about selected African cities. The conceit was to explore what would happen if I domesticated this global urban imagery, by projecting it onto the swimming pool and the garden of my northern Johannesburg suburban home.


fig. 8: Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema (2016), installation view of the swimming pool with projected images.


Greenaway argues that cinema, not only for external reasons, seems to be collapsing; coalescing into disappearance and evaporation. He lists (his insistence on cataloguing is well-documented) four tyrannies which have been inimical to the advancement of cinema.

1. The dominance of text-based cinema.
2. The predominance of a single frame.
3. The tyranny of the actor.
4. The most challenging thing to understand, which sounds very paradoxical, is the notion of the tyranny of the camera.

The first tyranny about the cinema’s reliance on text media presented me with challenges, as the three main films studied in my thesis are indeed text-based. Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon (2005) references strongly the work of Somali author, Nuruddin Farah, titled Links (2005). I Mike What I Like (2006) is a spoken-word film based on the poetry of Kgafela oa Magogodi, and Steve Kwena Mokwena’s experimental film, Driving with Fanon (2005),  draws much pathos from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961).


fig. 9: Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema (2016), installation view of projected images from Driving with Fanon (2005).


In order to deal with the first tyranny of privileging text-based film practice, I conceived of the configuration of the images as a form of cinematic hypertext drawing from Mancini’s (2000) argument:

...cinema and hypertext have several features in common. Like cinema, hypertext is a visual medium, the computer screen being a visual field where narrative space and time arise from a temporal articulation of spatial components. Like cinema’s shots, hypertext components constitute “selfstanding cores” of content, whose connection effects and expresses a strong semantic relationship. Mancini (2000:236)

I organised divergent texts from the three films as spatio-temporal nodes, which, while retaining their distinct rhetorical registers, are able in the eye and mind of the active spectator to generate a set of heuristic activities. Mancini (2000: 236) proposes that in cinematographic discourse the chain of fragments is made by the author, while in hypertext discourse this chain is co-produced by the author and the user. The user is similarly committed in hypertext and film engagement, as in both cases she has to reconstruct a coherent semantic world, starting from fragments.

Furthermore, Rosenberg and Fairfax (2008:sp) argue that the work of Adrian Miles (2008) promotes a “heuristic, poetic and iterative ‘thinking—within’ (not quite the thinking of thinking so much as the thinking of thought-as-writing) which not only aligns itself with design but  is itself ‘design thinking’”. Miles (2008:3) argues that to write hypertextually is to regard the link as the performative and enabling connection of parts into mobile wholes. These wholes are constituted not only from the sum of their parts, their content nodes, but also from the variety of possible relations established between them through their link structures.

Therefore, in my experiment, Nuruddin Farah’s novel Links (2005), which is mainly about the brutal violence in Somalia, remixed in Khalo Matabane’s (2006) film sequence about the violence in Johannesburg, becomes a hypertext node. The Matabane sequence connects with Kgafela oa Magogodi’s fragmented poem “Itchy City” (2006) in a hypertextual mode.

Furthermore, Magogodi’s poem echoes Steve Mokwena’s (2005) forlorn ruminations in the streets of Freetown with the ghost of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) in his pocket.

The sets of juxtaposition offered above might seem like the conventional montage in cinematic practice. However, the set of coding parameters that the Isadora software allowed for, created a radical re-organisation of the three texts’’  visual nodes, whose interaction was not characterised by linear semantic coherence. I programmed the installation to produce unpredictable connections and disconnections between the texts, demanding that the  spectator’s heuristic inner-cartography continually adapt, question and re-cast the texts.

To deal with the remaining three tyrannies of the dominance of the single frame, the privileging of narrative (actor), and the tyranny of the camera apparatus, I offer a survey of the answers that Lev Manovich (1995) advances in response to the question “what is digital cinema?” My discussion of these answers illuminates how my installation Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema (2016) wrestled with these tyrannies.

Manovich (1995:2) arrives at a definition of digital cinema by abstracting the common features and interface metaphors of a variety of computer software and hardware which are currently replacing traditional film technology. Seen together, he argues that these features suggest a distinct logic of a moving digital image. This logic subordinates the photographic and the cinematic to the painterly and graphic, thereby destroying cinema’s identity as a pure art medium.

In my experiment, Cinema  Is  Wasted.  On Cinema (2016), the logic of the dominance of a single frame, the privileging of narrative,  and the tyranny of the mono-focal camera apparatus is dismantled. The conceptual register of entanglement is instantiated through the non-representational imagery via affective tactics of the painterly treatment of the plastic nature of digital image making.


fig. 10 : Cinema Is Wasted on Cinema (2016) installation view of projected images from the film Driving with Fanon (2005).


Blot 3—Store in a Cool Dry Place

The project Store in a Cool Dry Place (2016) is a collaborative work conceived by filmmaker Jyoti Mistry as a response to a call for a group exhibition titled  When Tomorrow Comes (2016), initially staged at the Wits Art Museum and later at the Michaelis Galleries at the University of Cape Town. The curators of the exhibition,  McInnes, Mistry and Titlestand (2016:1), framed the project around concerns of the apocalyptic and ventured to ask “ how might art face up to droll dystopian fantasies of social and environmental collapse? The curatorial vision of the exhibition sought to ‘engage the saturated field of representation comprised of stock imagery and the worn-out currency of metaphor and metonymy’”.

The exhibition call provoked thinking about apocalyptic narratives as sites that invite visual conjectures beyond stereotypes offered in dominant visual cultures such as Hollywood disaster films. In response to the call, I worked with two documents as points of entry in the conception and ultimate realisation of my intervention in the exhibition. The first was a piece of writing titled Pushing On /Off Buttons of Consciousness (2016) and the second was video footage of the rituals and processes of coffin making in three African cities (Addis Ababa, Johannesburg and Accra). The brief was to think through how to re-imagine and disrupt the logic of the single screen epic narrative of the “end of times” narratives and create a sculptural structure in which the furtive video fragments/imprints of the city imagery might be projected.

The document, Pushing On/Off Buttons of Consciousness by Mistry (2016), is written in a first-person voice, which oscillates between tidal waves of panic, non-panic, contemplation, and confusion about the language of the apocalyptic in different discourses of science, philosophy, representation, religion, and politics. The writing is presented in vignettes interplaying between instantiations of hearing, reading, and seeing, punctuated by the on/off state of feeling:

Panic.

But I consider myself, a “not so regular civilian”.

When I hear: I wrestle with the jargon, work with words carefully and distil their meanings meticulously.

When I read: I unpack the logic, find the causal relations in the way arguments are presented, and even when the language is scientific (far removed from the ways I am schooled to use words), I work hard to understand.

When I watch: Like most civilians, I respond emotively. I am moved by the responsibilities that are asked of me as an inhabitant of the planet. But I am also highly aware of how strong emotional reactions can be elicited through moving images. How a skilful construction of images assembled with the right music and appropriately chosen sound bites serve to produce alarm and fear; to educate and conscientious through emotion. The use of the medium is to create a necessary panic to incite action.

Panic… panic

φ

What stood out for me in the writing was that each vignette was bookended by a Phi φ symbol, which is offered as a visual cue for a moment of balance in-between the rapidly swinging discursive pendulum: an attempt to arrest, albeit momentarily, the surging telos of the “end of the world” narrative and propose an aesthetic respite; a moment to balance out the politics and poetics of the apocalyptic narrative.

I held on to the idea of balance through the Phi φ symbol in the first conceptual sketches and with my scale ruler in hand, I confronted the 1.618 golden ratio measurement as a starting point. The conceit of the golden ratio in mathematical terms arises from dividing the line segment so that the ratio of the whole segment to the larger piece is equal to the ratio of the larger piece to the smaller piece—a division in extreme and mean ratio. This ratio has been appropriated in the Western art history, architecture and literature, as a measurement of perfectly realised beauty and symmetry.


fig. 11: Projection test image on the 1:1 scale model of icosahedral skeleton object.


With these measurements in mind, I started drawing and modelling a series of golden rectangles which references the dimension of the monofocal cinema screen and is very close to the 16: 9 aspect ratio that is the international standard for television and computer monitors. In order to complicate the two-dimensional nature of the golden rectangle, I started folding a piece of the rectangular paper in different geometric forms and ultimately ended up with the skeleton of the icosahedron.

As a polyhedron with 20 surfaces, the icosahedral presents an opportunity to experiment with multiple screens, which can be projected into from multiple focal points. The first tests for projection on icosahedron resulted not only in multiplying the surfaces of the images, but there was also an exciting play of planes that happened as the images were refracted at the dihedral points of the icosahedron skeleton. The subtle movement of the suspended mobile seemed to be editing the images as they started to merge with images projected from various focal points. Steyerl (2012:27) argues that when we start to think through multiple screens, we can disrupt the prescribed focal points of dominant cinema, and can create a new and exciting spatial vision of multiscreen projections, which creates a dynamic viewing space, dispersing perspective and possible points of view. The viewer is no longer unified by such a gaze, but is somewhat dissociated and overwhelmed, drafted into the production of content.

The icosahedral multi-screens presented the possibility to instantiate Steyer’s (2012) provocation, but also to take it forward and wonder what happens if the screens are not stationary. What if I designed the icosahedral multiple screens in the form of mobile structures suspended in space? What would happen to the furtive images/imprints when projected on a moving target?

A moving target that is made out of multiple golden rectangles and structure that requires proportional balance to facilitate the movement of the object. The Phi φ symbol recurs.


fig. 12: Installation View (Video Detail) of the Store in A Cool Dry Place at Wits Arts Museum (2016).


The title of the installation, Store in a Cool Dry Place, was an interesting starting point for thinking through the video footage for editing and projection. Mistry (2016:25) describes the title as referring to the “ubiquitous instruction on most consumer products, an idea of suggesting the ideal condition for preservation; a way of forestalling the inevitable deterioration of the various ingredients making up the consumer product”.

Cinematic editing, particularly the technique of continuity editing, is concerned with the idea of preserving the unity of time and space in order to offer a coherent product. Elements like shot sizes, angles and variation, consistent screen direction and 180-degree rules are all ingredients by which the tempo-spatial integrity of the cinematic image and its mono-focal presentation are instigated and sustained. Instead of adopting the techniques of post-production to structure the images of making of coffins, and the affective religious rituals in Accra, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa, I became interested in what Steyerl (2012:183) dubs “re-production”.


fig. 13: Installation View (Video Detail) of the Store in A Cool Dry Place at Wits Arts Museum (2016).


The prefix “re-“, points to repetition or response, a state in which the production of images is endlessly recycled, repeated, copied, multiplied, but potentially also displaced, humbled and renewed. Thinking about bodies in post-production, Steyerl argues:

While cuts have moved centre stage in economic discourse, cutting or editing is also a traditional tool of cinema. While editing is usually understood as a modification in the temporal dimension, cinema also cuts bodies in space by framing them, retaining only what’s useful to the narration. The body is disarticulated and rearticulated in a different form. As Jean-Louis Comolli dramatically states, the frame cuts into the body as sharp, crisp, and clean as a razor’s edge (2012:179).

My working process of assembling images is neither held together by a grand mimetic narrative, nor “sharp, crisp, and clean as a razor’s edge”. The editing process in this iteration is conceived of as a reproduction of displaced images and bodies, which are connected by the contemplation of destruction, decay and rituals of preservation. Constantly recycled, the fragments wrestled for space in the extreme and mean ratio of the mythic golden rectangle compositional regime. Using three micro projectors, the images projected on the mobile were diminutive in scale, and they were constructed to challenge the assumption of a grand narrative, while resisting the spectator’s easy cognitive grasp by being projected onto a moving target—a mobile that resists the stability of the image.


Concluding Note—Asymmetries Installation (2018/19)


fig. 14: Asymmetries Installation View at the Point of Order Project Space in Johannesburg (May 2018).


The three projects were plotted as “journeys that have been taken that intersect, they gather, coagulate and ultimately produce a blot on the map; a thickening at those points of intersection between the various passages”. The three projects are iterative instantiations that ultimately congealed into the final installation titled Asymmetries (2018/19).

The creative project, Asymmetries (2018/19), offers tentative, situated, epistemic sketches explored through various artistic practices. These practices contest normative and oft-canonised registers for conceptualising and visualizing African urbanity. In artistic research methods, practical knowledge is made visible, and its process made evident, which serves to challenge epistemological research paradigms.

Furthermore, the installation, Asymmetries (2018/19)  was conceived as a making-thinking-spectatorial research project on the urban [context/reality/situation/environment?], premised on strategies developed through modes of artistic research. The approach is inspired by AbdouMaliq Simone’s (2013) enquiries, which capture the difficulties of theorising many quarters of African cities; where complex social interactions challenge normative modes of research in urban spaces.

Asymmetries (2018/19) functions as a multi-channel installation; the artwork consists of images projected onto mobile sculptures designed in the motif of the icosahedron suspended on beams. The multiple mobile screens offer various registers of mapping contemporary urban beings and their objects. The installation project demands a different conception of the relationship between the screen,  the image and the viewer. I present the assemblage of images from various cities, which requires a framing; reframing; and deframing that defies a totalising whole. Instead, the experience evokes tentative, incomplete and constantly moving-evolving ideas that at times move together and at times,  move against each other; and on occasion allow for coalescence.


fig. 15: Asymmetries Installation View at the Point of Order Project Space in Johannesburg (May 2018).



Nduka Mntambo is image-maker working/playing in the interstices of urban spatial practices, experimental filmmaking and pedagogy. He holds a PhD in Film and is the Head of the Film and Television program at the Wits School of Arts (WSOA). In May 2018, he presented a large scale exhibition titled Asym-metries at The Point of Order Project Space in Johannesburg and in 2O19 the work travelled to Michaelis Galleries in Cape Town. The most recent iteration of the work was presented as an Installation Performance Lecture at the Art Research Africa Conference in 2020 The installation won the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences Award for Best Visual Art 2020. The video component of the Asymmetries installation was selected for 20th Edition of the Videoex Internationales Experimental Film and Video Festival in Zurich, 2018. His documentary film titled Human (e) Settlements: Urban Challenge, which looks at the state of housing and human settlements in South Africa, premiered at the UN-Habit: World Urban Forum 6, Naples, Italy 2012. His experimental film; IF THIS BE A CITY, which is an exploration of the politics of space, citiness and desire, was selected to be part of the Johannesburg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2015 and was also part of the Urban Flux Film Festival, which was an official project of the France South Africa Seasons 2012/2013. He has worked extensively as a production designer including productions such as I like I Mike What I Like (2004) directed by Kgafela oa Magogodi which was later adapted to the eponymous feature-length film directed by Jyoti Mistry. He collaborated with filmmaker Jyoti Mistry on a video installation titled Store in a Cool Dry Place which explores the ritual of coffin production in three African cities: Accra, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg. The exhibition opened at WAM (Wits Art Museum) and later travelled to Michaelis Galleries at UCT (University of Cape Town). An iteration of a PhD research field notes titled, Notes from the Lighthouse in Ga- Jamestown was presented at the ArtSearch Primer held at the Dance Factory in Newtown, and the DFL 9TH Africa Research Conference held the constitutional Hill 2016.

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