Why a virtual exhibition: Cyber-Incursion
The internet is a place of unlimited opportunities and information for some, while it remains inaccessible for others because of the low quality and high cost of the connection. Some simply lack the electronic devices to access the internet or cannot access online information because it is not available in their native language. These realities mean that privileged people dominate the production of narratives. Indeed, most of the articles on Kinshasa on the internet are written by authors who are not in Africa, and this of course influences perceptions of the continent. Controlled by Western multinationals such as Google and Facebook, the internet often only allows the dissemination of knowledge according to established Western models.
These realities, moreover, have had a direct influence on the activities of the Laboratoire Kontempo. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, exchanges during the project had to take place partly on the internet, through video calls, sharing of digital files, videos and photos, etc.
Because of the slow connection, international exchanges with our colleagues in Cameroon, Belgium and Austria have been rather difficult and limited. Despite this, the Laboratoire Kontempo project persists to leave its mark on the web by offering a virtual exhibition and alternative narratives that go beyond the mainstream. The project offers a local, Kinshasa-based perspective on locally and internationally discussed artistic topics such as stereotypes of the perception of Africa/African culture, power dynamics, linguistic and epistemic hierarchies and Eurocentrism.
Postcolonial experimentation: Overturn power structures in contemporary art
The Laboratoire Kontempo, based in Kinshasa, brings together several local and international artists and specialists, researchers and intellectuals to create artistic synergies in an ever-changing experimental context. Following a transdisciplinary and experimental approach, the project explores today’s artistic possibilities.
We are currently living in a postcolonial era in Kinshasa. While the traces of colonisation have become blurred, they are still very present and the psychosocial constructions of the colonial era persist. Frantz Fanon calls psychic residues the reactionary psychoses of power structures that manifest themselves in the ways of behaving, in relationships to others and in world views. 1
The Laboratoire Kontempo wants to detect and question the dynamics of power in the contemporary art sector. These are linked to colonial history and neo-colonialist structures such as, for example, hierarchies of interdependence according to the law of market demand and supply between artists, institutions and individuals who have the power to fund certain projects.
Currently following this dynamic, artists considered “contemporary” in Kinshasa often work within a system of codes shaped by Western artistic values and at the same time negotiate so-called “typically African” themes from a supposedly Western perspective. This trend dominates international contemporary art and is part of the neo-colonial power structures. The Laboratoire Kontempo questions these structures and thus wishes to develop new strategies for artistic creation, in order to come up with new codes and to use the existing ones in a different way. In Sortir de la Grande Nuit (2010), Achille Mbembe argues that artists can change the course of African post-coloniality. Artists are therefore invited to navigate this system of interdependencies through visual expressions.
Working method: Transdisciplinary cooperation and dialogue between practice, theory, criticism and art
This project tries to overturn and deconstruct power dynamics. It encourages a detachment from mainstream thinking and an awareness of the existence of psychosocial traces of colonisation and linguistic, spiritual and epistemic hierarchies in our current society and our Eurocentric world system.
The experimental starting point of the Laboratoire Kontempo creates a collaborative environment for all participating artists and theorists. Working methods are developed in a collaborative way from the very beginning of the Laboratoire Kontempo project: problems and theses are proposed by artists and theorists themselves and then formalised. Through analyses, different hypotheses are then confirmed or rejected. The transdisciplinary approach of Laboratoire Kontempo allows various elements of response to arise.
1 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
This project was realised in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Kinshasa.