Pixelini Festival, Bamako

Pixelini is a festival about digital arts, creativity, and technology that took place last week in Bamako, Mali - a collaboration between the Collectif Yeta in Mali, Ker Thiossane in Senegal and Rose des Vents Numériques in France.

The opening evening at Collectif Yeta’s base in Sogoniko is close to where I’m staying in Faso Kanu, but it still takes me a while to find the place, and my taxi driver sighs as I ask him to turn round and return to the street we’ve just driven down.

After the formal press conference and the presentation of Rose des Vents Numériques’ new website we head back into the garden to watch an improvised, interactive performance in the (empty) swimming pool involving a visual artist, a dancer and a rapper.

I think the idea was that the dancer’s movements were supposed to trigger both the soundtrack and the images on the screen, but I’m really not sure that element of the performance went quite to plan. They do now have a mural on the swimming pool walls, however.

The “cocktail électronique” which follows the performance causes much amusement. It turns out to be a customised shopping trolley containing bottles of bissap and ginger juice, a computer screen, speakers and webcam. Removing a bottle and pouring a drink triggers all kinds of sounds and images - both pre-recorded and live.

The second day of the Pixelini Festival starts with a visit to the Marche de Medine in Bamako where the blacksmiths transform (upcycle) old cars, railway sleepers and scrap metal  into tools, kitchenware - almost anything. I spent a day there last year photographing the workshops:

Mamadou Traore, the Secretary of the Blacksmiths’ Co-operative, who showed me round last year is part of the panel for the afternoon’s debate in the Pixelini Festival - a discussion focussing on medialabs, (how to make almost anything), FabLabs - and the parallels with recycling and ‘upcycling’ in an African context.

There’s lots of talk about ‘Open Source’, - about creating access to digital tools to enable people to customise programmes - and the related issue of protecting intellectual property (both artistic and industrial).

Artists from the Cameroon, Haiti and South Africa have been in residence making work during the festival, and they lead the discussion in the second debate about how digital technology is being used creatively in Africa.

Marthe Bolda from the Cameroon has created a video installation in the gallery at the Palais de la Culture. She has observed how market traders in Bamako more often than not have a small TV somewhere on their stall or in their booth and she’s been showing them some of her own video pieces and recording their reactions - by transcribing their spoken words into written texts and filming them whilst they watch her work.

Haitian choreographer Jean Aurel Maurice and dancers from Donko Seko make a new multi-media piece for the Pixelini Festival called “Déjà Vu”. Quite what possessed them in 35 degrees centigrade to cover themselves from head to toe in aluminium foil for the opening scene is beyond me. 

The aluminium foil is soon discarded, and remains scattered across the performance area like some form of industrial waste material.

Trinity Session (Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neusetter) from Johannesburg, South Africa present a beautifully crafted film installation by the river Niger in the grounds of the Palais de la Culture, the amber street lamps on the Pont des Martyrs glowing through the light cotton screens suspended between the trees on the river bank.

The film takes us on a journey by river from Mopti to Djenne which Stephen and Marcus made during their residency.

The last performance is by dancers from Copier Coller in Mali - an improvised experiment with Wii motion control technology

The evening continues into the small hours with “Pixeldonke Fo Ka Segue” (Dance with pixels till you drop)

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