Images courtesy of
Images courtesy of Auto Italia South East

NTU: UBULAWU // Collaborative Transcontinental Healing Practices in East London’s Auto Italia

Mounds of earth erupt from a soft slate coloured screed floor. Soil cocoons containing rectangular white boxes pepper the project space. Informative posters hang vertically off the walls, divulging details about Ubulawu – a collection of plants traditionally used in South African spiritual practice. The exhibition explores an Afrocentric approach to decolonial healing through ancient systems, disseminated through the digital. A combination of sculptural pieces, video installation and symbolic imagery prompt potential prophetic dreamscapes. Channels for interdimensional communication are activated throughout the art-space.

NTU is a collective of artists including Nolan Oswald Dennis, Tabita Rezaire and Bogosi Sekhukhuni. Their first debut in London is rooted in a larger research project, NTUSAVE which draws on their collective interests and art practices. Nolan describes the project as, “a deep meditation on the psycho-spiritual interspecies alliance between human consciousness and plant intelligence. This project draws on ancient African knowledge and protocols around the use of specific agencies of plant-life to recover technologies that grant access to interdimensional flows of consciousness and information. NTUSAVE is currently working with ubulawu oneirogenic preparations of Southern African plants to recode properties of water as an agent of consciousness.”

In conversation with Marianne Forrest, one of the artists who runs the project alongside Kate Cooper and Edward Gillman,  positioned the space as a platform to, “make NTU’s ongoing research public, which has been an exciting provocation, and to bring their practice as a group to the UK for the first time where it feels particularly interesting to have their voice, seeking new dialogues and presenting new modes of research not usually seen or discussed within the London art scene.”

Collectivity and an expansive approach to artistic production and the mode in which it occupies spaces is a common interest. “We were particularly interested in how the group was exploring ideas around networks of production and alternative conceptions of interfaces – thinking through practices for creating connection and community and exploring ideas of healing potential and spirituality online and in digital production.”

Auto Italia (Marleen Boschen, Theo Cook, Kate Cooper, Marianne Forrest, Andrew Kerton, Jess Wiesner), MY SKIN WAS AT WAR WITH A WORLD OF DATA, performance as part of ‘sunrise sunset’, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2016. Photograph: Frank Sperling

Auto Italia was founded on principles of collaboration. The project space began a decade ago when “a group of recent art graduates came together to try and create an autonomous space to make, produce and show work. No one could afford a studio and there was a desire to see what could be made working collaboratively and self-organising – creating a space in the city that was for us, and striving towards a generative and generous model that would allow us to dream up projects with other artists that we really admired.”

Marianne expanded in the rich history of the project, “from the beginning, there was a desire to understand what it meant to have space; the first ever building we were occupying was a squatted car garage in South London, and from then until around 2014 we operated fairly nomadically… We were constantly thinking through what having physical space might mean, especially with the concurrent shift towards making, producing and sharing work digitally, and the increasingly inhospitable landscape of London as a city artists could actually afford to be in.”

Auto Italia (Marleen Boschen, Theo Cook, Kate Cooper, Marianne Forrest), On Coping, 2015.

Over the last ten years a network of new communities have been established through engaging with notions of “labour, gender, performativity and formats for collective production.” A continuous presence has been maintained in the city. “We often think about Auto Italia as something useful that can enable the artists working within it to access tools, whether that be budgets, different production modes, new networks and so on – and with the work of SA collectives like NTU and CUSS we see that same approach of exploding expectations in what art can be and enact, and using the power of collaborative working to create a scene of producers who support and champion each other in defining their own terms of production.”

Decoloniality is life after death, NTU doesn’t die, we multiply.

Nolan Oswald Dennis

Auto Italia, Auto Italia LIVE: Double Dip Concession, 2012, live broadcast from the ICA, London, as part of the exhibition ‘Remote Control’. Photograph: Ryan McNamara

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