Josèfa Ntjam: swell of spæc(i)es

Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, Venice, Italy
20 Apr 2024 - 24 Nov 2024

Josèfa Ntjam, swell of spæc(i)es, 2024. Courtesy of LAS Art Foundation.

Josèfa Ntjam, swell of spæc(i)es, 2024. Courtesy of LAS Art Foundation.

LAS Art Foundation announces a major new commission by artist, performer and writer Josèfa Ntjam. The first exhibition to be presented outside of Berlin by the itinerant foundation, swell of spæc(i)es will be a Collateral Event of the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 20 April – 24 November 2024. The exhibition will take place in the courtyard of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, in a purpose-built pavilion, and will be accompanied by an interactive element at Palazzina Canonica – CNR ISMAR (Istituto di Scienze Marine).

swell of spæc(i)es will unfold a new creation myth shaped by ancient and emergent ways of conceiving the universe. Within this imaginary, plankton is a point of convergence between the deep ocean and outer space, biological and mythical realms, possible pasts and alternative futures. Visitors to the exhibition will encounter an otherworldly environment populated by sonic sculptures and a new film scored by Fatima al Qadiri, which will be displayed on a curved LED wall.

In recent years, Ntjam’s practice has explored the political and utopian dimensions of oceans, receptacles of many stories of domination – from slavery and colonisation, to capitalism and environmental and humanitarian crises – but also of resistance, emancipation and creation. In Venice she will focus on plankton as an agent of alchemical transformation in recounting the story of Amma, a Dogon deity that created the stars by launching pellets of the earth into the sky, and Nommos, the first creatures to live underwater. Ntjam draws parallels between the Dogon cosmogony and a recent discovery which found limestone (primarily formed through the fossilisation of plankton, coral and other marine organisms) in the debris of a former planet orbiting a white dwarf. Her film blends 3D animation and footage from aquariums into a circular narrative of creation, transformation and resurgence. It features a cast of interspecies characters synthesised using AI and other digital tools, including 3D models of marine life, scans of West African statues held in museum collections and photographs witnessing decolonial independence movements. These characters embed histories and memories subject to hegemonic erasure within marine and cosmic landscapes, reflecting influences from electronic music duo Drexciya, whose mythology tells of an underwater population born from the wrecks of the Atlantic human trade, and Sun Ra, who envisioned Saturn as a host planet for Afro-diasporic people.

Ntjam’s sonic sculptures are made from innovative materials such as biosourced resin and reishi mycelium. A membrane-like form will emerge from the ground, diffusing electroacoustic frequencies, while non-linear narrative fragments will emanate from two jellyfish ‘sound showers’. Spanning multiple cosmo-geographies and knowledge systems, the installation will shape a poetics of alterity.

Designed by UNA / UNLESS architecture studio, the pavilion housing Ntjam’s exhibition will be a triangular purple-blue prism that appears to have fallen from outer space into the Accademia di Belle Arti’s courtyard, subtly inter- locking with the Renaissance-era building and evoking, with the placement of the curved LED wall, the absence of a 16th-century church by Sansovino once located on site. Its striking geometry will stand in contrast to the organic forms emerging within.

Research is at the core of LAS commissions, and in developing the exhibition, Ntjam has held exchanges with plankton scientists at Cardiff University, Wales, and Istituto di Scienze Marine (ISMAR), Venice. At ISMAR’s Palazzina Canonica, she will present an interactive accompaniment to the project which asks audiences to join her process of carrying forward ancestral histories.
An AI-based interface will allow visitors to generate their own hybrid plankton species merging Ntjam’s dataset with photographs of plankton produced by ISMAR’s flow cytometer, a monitoring instrument located 16 kilometres offshore, which uses AI to classify organisms found in water samples. The audience-generated creatures will inhabit a virtual ecosystem on site.

Josèfa Ntjam: swell of spæc(i)es will be complemented by a series of public and educational programmes, organised by LAS in collaboration with Ocean Space, ISMAR and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.




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