Vernacular Algorithms Pop Up Project – ISEA2018, Durban

Story Posted: 21 June 2018
Categories: Press


Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival is having some exploratory fun in June this year at two pop-ups. The first is at ISEA2018 in Durban, South Africa.  Fak’ugesi Festival Director, Dr. Tegan Bristow is collaborating with Russel Hlongwane , Lindiwe Matlali and from Mozambique based ANIMA ‘s Joao Roxo and Alexandre Coelho on an exploration of  Vernacular Algorithms.

Project Introduction: At the heart of the debate where digital is assumed as a product of the West, KwaZulu-Natal (ISEA 2018 host) presents an interesting body of works that contribute to the growing evidence that Africa has been an active agent of coded practice for much longer than has been recorded by the West and at times shows a deeply entrenched use of binaries through rich patterns, beadwork and localised subversive language. 

Johannesburg based Fakugesi African Digital Innovation Festival is a rich platform that brings with it, a critical methodology of engaging with this contested area of knowledge production. It is therefore well equipped to stimulate an urgent recalibration of the intersection of ancient practices with contemporary views and outputs from a younger generation of cultural agents in the province. All with the view to texture the conversation of digital, technology, innovation and artistic praxis on the continent and the diaspora.

Parallel to this, Fakugesi Festival has played a critical role in developing and perpetuating the discourse of (African and diasporic) regional and pan African digital cultures to a critical point on the continent. This project proposal is therefore predicated on the desire to provoke, engage and frame Durban and Southern Africa’s East Coast (a position not previously engaged) on digital creative and cultural praxis through a Fak’ugesi framework within the ISEA 2018 platform.

Amidst a flattening global culture where all populations are working towards some kind of homogeneity; ancient practices, venacular and context specificity reveal deep ‘’regionally’’ coded cultures and KwaZulu-Natal has been particularly prolific in this regard. However, there has been little engaged and sustained enquiry from young artists to unearth this depth with the view to reposition it within recent debates in the crossover from traditional to technology cultures in contemporary production. This project begins that dynamic process, albeit only as a starting point.

Program Focus:

Sat. 23  June –  A Vocabulary for Vernacular Algorithms

An intimate exploratory conversation to take place around the beadwork and weaving collection of the Phansi Museum between Phumzile Nkozi (curator), Russel Hlongwane (cultural producer) from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and Dr Tegan Bristow (Fak’ugesi Festival Director, artist and educator) from Fak’ugesi Festival in Gauteng. The conversation is an attempt to read the coded language embedded in beadwork as a way to generate a vocabulary of coded practices, both traditional and contemporary. 

This exploratory reading will be followed by an exploratory walk through Warwick Triangle across to Queen street, this stretch is populated by a number of communities who share the intimate knowledge of this practice. Collectively, these engagements balance the museum perspective of beadwork and places it alongside the embodied knowledge of this material and practice.

Thurs. 27 June – Panel Discussion: Opening Spaces for Vernacular Knowledges in Digital Cultures

A more formal conversation aimed at an art and design audience. The panel aims to address and engage the requirement to ‘open up’ spaces for vernacular and creative knowledges in technological agenda’s. This goes hand in hand with an exploration on the uniqueness present in urban informality and what the role of subaltern and vernacular knowledge are in holding the health of communities in African urbanism who battle with concerns of environmental justice (as related to a globalised information economy led by capitalism and corporate greed), migration, black-tax, labour, Afro-pessimism, spirituality and assertive African histories.

Location: DUT, City Campus, ISEA Academic Session
Time: 3:15 – 4:15

Sat. 30 June – Coding a Vocabulary for Vernacular Algorithms
This workshop / hack-a-thon that grows out of what was understood from the vocabularies developed in the conversational series. A creative coding gathering aimed at those wanting to engage vernacular forms in their existing programming practices. Basic principles of coding will be explored in line with the beadwork patterns, followed by co-making by any practitioners more comfortable with coding to code a few of the pieces for display Coordinator: Dr. Tegan Bristow and Alexandre Coelho.

Location: Media Room, KZNSA
Time: 10:00 – 14:00

Sat. 30 June – Ifu Elimnyama (Dark Cloud)

This work is a performative recital by Russel Hlongwane, which takes Zulu mythology and folklore and places it within a digital framework. It plays with issues of ritual, cosmology and technology – drawing criticisms and parallels about these various areas of existence.

Location: TBC
Time: TBC

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