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Signals from the South

An exhibition featuring Jean Katambayi Mukendi (R.D. Congo)

Jean Katambayi Mukendi was born in 1974 in Lubumbashi, the �Capital of copper�, in the South-East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he lives and works. Selftaught artist and scientist, he has a passion for logic, mechanics, geometry and above all electricity. Born to an electrician father and a mother working for a company in the metal extraction business, he was early on surrounded by all sorts of metals at home, which became an essential substance to his artistic work. Bricolage and the art of paper cutting were part of everyday life and Jean also soon discovered a passion for numbers.
Already as a child, he starting sculpting cardboard machines, spending days and nights building them. He studied at a technical school like his four sisters and brothers, graduated from there as an electrician and later on pursued studies in mathematics. However he remained �puzzled by creation� until his encounter with the art world a few years later.

His art practice synthesizes the influences of his direct environment, the knowledge acquired during his studies and the everyday difficulties of contemporary African societies. Jean says that �through electricity, he can show the functioning of any organism: how the energy is pumped, the reception, through a circuit�. Cardboard, thread to his childhood, remains the main raw material onto which he applies different metals (copper, aluminium, steel). From there he elaborates sophisticated electrical mechanisms, embedded into fragile looking, beautiful and complex conceptual installations, involving hours and hours of work. Jean explains that �all the things in Congo are done in a very quick, careless way and often the end result is ugly�. So in addition to asking radical questions about society and calling for change, he is also hoping to make people understand the importance of such a basic thing as beauty created by proper craftmanship.

Jean Katambayi Mukendi was awarded the �Prix de la D�couverte� of the Dak�art 2010 Biennale by Fondation Blach�re. Jean�s works have been shown in Congo since the 90?, and more recently in Switzerland, in Senegal and in France. His works include �Analyseur Moteur G�n�rateur�, �Radio Julia�, �Simultium�, �Simulen�, �S�lecteur�, �Ponteur� and �Ecoson�.

Exhibited Works


Simulen is an impressive machine whose shell is entirely made of paper and cardboard. It is a prototype for automatic correction of power distribution. At the heart of this piece is the daily reality of power cuts in Congo and the rest of Africa, resulting from the chaotic growth of urban infrastructures and the overload of anarchic connections to the electrical network. Often working late at night, Jean himself suffers a lot from this phenomenon and finds it very stressful. He noticed that after a power cut, the voltage over the wires is fluctuating over time. When electric home devices suddenly stop functioning, people often try to change the order of wires manually. This actually helps to make devices start working again, but it also very easily creates a short circuit, causing electrical shocks or the house to burn down in fire. While electricity systems have mostly become quite abstract in the North, in Africa people manipulate electricity with bare hands to correct failures in the diy style. If it doesn�t claim to solve the core of the problem that is political in the first place, Simulen is the prototype of a tool that would perhaps be the first one, to both visualise this phenomenon and teach common people how electricity works to protect them.

Jean realised Simulen in the context of his Afropixel residency at Ker-Thiossane in Dakar (Senegal) in 2010.

Simulen � collection fondation Blach�re, Art contemporain africain (Apt � France)


Ecoson is an artistic and electrical representation of the relationships between nature and technology within our ecosystem. It is a complex installation consisting of 20 glass jars filled with organic matter (inc. fruits, metal, cooked food etc.), connected to matrixes via plastic tubes and electrical wires, which virtually mix these ecoconductors (organic matter) with semiconductors (diods) in different combinations. All the connections between these natural and technological elements trigger different sounds, as well as light animations on a reshuffled world map.

Ecoson draws attention to the existence and to the influence of less obvious interactions within the global ecosystem, that should be explored further and taken into account in our effort to save the Earth. The behaviour of sound and light elements in the installation stand for all these more subtle parameters which are currently underestimated or ignored. In Jean�s opinion, the global ecosystem is kept together in a similar way as social relationships between people � both can last only if attention is given to subtle details.

Ecoson � collection fondation Blach�re, Art contemporain africain (Apt � France)

This exhibition is part of the programme of the 10th edition of Pixelache Festival taking place in Helsinki during 10-13 March 2011. Pixelache is a festival of electronic art and subcultures, organised in Helsinki since year 2002. Amongst our fields of interest are: experimental interaction and electronics; grassroot organising and networks; politics and economics of media/technology; VJ culture and audiovisual performances; media literacy and engaging environmental issues.

This is the 4th edition of Signals from the South, a programme dedicated to art, media and technology projects from South America, Africa and Asia. During the past years Pixelache has also produced and presented a series of artistic projects dealing with the theme of energy. This exhibition brings a new perspective to this corpus of projects, by adding in an African point of view.

Signals from the South is organised by Pixelache, with support from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in cooperation with Fondation Blach�re (France) and HIAP.

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