Dzata: The Institute of Technological Consciousness

Russel Hlongwane (ZA), Francois Knoetze and Amy Louise Wilson – Lo-Def Film Factory (ZA)

Dzata: The Institute of Technological Consciousness is an artistic research project by South African artists Russel Hlongwane, Francois Knoetze, and Amy Wilson. In fabricating a fictional institute and its archive, the artists imagine centuries-old vernacular technological practices from across the African continent. Building on the research of technopolitical scholar and project mentor Professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, the work takes the form of video, a creative-critical text, sculptural masks, costumes and devices, and a youth workshop series. 

The video operates as an in-house media assemblage created for the preservation of the institute’s activities and ideas, unfolding the idea of development as a historical process Africans shaped. 

The project aims to foreground indigenous technological knowledge and to explore how science, technology and innovation are part of a long interlinked process of accumulative knowledge production which extends into the long past. 

As such, the work does not ‘invent something new' rather, it brings into conversation present thinkers, anti-colonial revolutionary practices, folklore and gadgetry. The collapsing of these ideas helps chart a wider framework from which to think about technology from the continent. 
The workshops, held with young people in South Africa (Cape Town, 2022) and Brazil (Salvador, 2023), are pop-up maker-spaces which position young people as creative innovators and inventors of their own technologies. The workshops invite youth to identify a challenge in their community, and to use electronic waste and other materials to create their own invention to address it. 

As members of the Dzata Institute we ask: how can we draw examples from history which illuminate the invention of modernities from within, rather than received from elsewhere? Or, finding none available to us, can we fabricate our own examples? How can we alter incoming modernities so that they speak native languages and advance our identities?

Written and Directed by: Francois Knoetze, Russel Hlongwane + Amy Louise Wilson

A Lo-Def Film Factory & Substance Point Production
Supported by the Mozilla Foundation Creative Media Award & Mozilla Alumni Connection Fund

Project Advisors: Oulimata Gueye, Professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga

Cinematographer + Editor: Francois Knoetze
Script Development: Russel Hlongwane, Amy Louise Wilson, Francois Knoetze
Screenplay: Amy Louise Wilson
Sound Designers: Gugulethu Duma (Dumama)
Caydon van Eck (b00n)
Production Design + Costume: Francois Knoetze
Collage Art: Duduetsang Lamola (blk banaana), Francois Knoetze, Amy Louise Wilson
Sound engineer and co-producer: Kerim Melik Becker (Kechou)
Percussionists : Fabiano Lima , Aduni Guedes de Oliveira
Cellist: Tsepo Pooe
Violin: Elizabeth Huehuentro
Original compositions by Dumama supported by the Gwaetler Foundation
Assistant Editor: Peacemore Patsika
Additional Graphic Design: Ilze Wessels

Featuring performances by: Russel Hlongwane, Duduetsang Lamola, Oupa Sibeko, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Indalo Stofile, Thulisa Mayalo, Jacques Lukoji, Anesu Alex, Philimon Rukodzi, Ragel Mahera, Peacemore Patsika, Nicole Goto, Gomez Bakwene

Voice-Over + Translation: Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu, Russel Hlongwane, Elinatta Hazembe (Chichewa)

Workshop Assistant: Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu

With thanks to: Mozilla Foundation; Project Playground, Gugulethu; Theatre Arts Admin Collective, Cape Town; Kofi Yeboah

The Lo-Def Film Factory was created by artist duo Francois Knoetze (ZA) and Amy Louise Wilson (ZA). Their work involves archival research and visual strategies associated with video art, collage, installation and new media, to create space for collaborative, D.I.Y, and experimental storytelling. They use digital technologies in a practice that embraces mistake-making.

Russel Hlongwane (ZA) is a cultural producer based in South Africa. His work obsesses over the tensions of heritage, modernity, culture and tradition as it applies to black life. His practice includes research, design theory, writing, film and curatorship. He is part of several working groups across the African continent and internationally. He recently completed a MPhil at the African Centre for Cities (University of Cape Town).

Technological innovation practices long existed prior to colonization in Africa. Dzata effectively counters the view of Africa as a mere consumer of technology in an immersive and fun way. Ancient Africans were skilled in metalworking, particularly in the production of iron. For example, iron smelting was practiced in Nok culture in Nigeria as early as 1500 BCE. The Bantu people spread ironworking techniques across much of sub-Saharan Africa, leading to significant advancements in agriculture, warfare, and trade. 

Dzata uses film for storytelling to reimagine Africa's technological past through the lens of a theoretical “fictional Institute of Technological Consciousness" that investigates the idea of invention and innovation as a component of a continuous, interconnected process of accumulated knowledge.  The visually striking imagery, which is driven by an innovative application of generative AI, boldly asserts that African technological innovation has advanced over time.  

It also showcases the diversity and sophistication of ancient African technologies, which were instrumental in forming the history and cultural legacy of the continent.