Text by Jean Katambayi Mukendi
18 April 2024

Jean Katambayi Mukendi was introduced to CATPC in Lusanga as an artist in residence in 2016, at a time when the members of the collective were making their first sculptures. He taught alongside the artists Mega Mingiedi, Michel Ekeba and Eléonor Hellio and was a mentor to young artists in Lusanga who were just embarking on their international careers. Electricity is a central axis in his work – a philosophical, technical and political metaphor used to illustrate the challenges Africa is facing in general, where people’s relationship with electricity is both more direct and more precarious than in Europe.

It’s an elementary fact of life that living beings create their existence within a nebula of space and planets. This nebula involves a complex interplay of material and immaterial forces, which leaves many existential questions unanswered.

Electricity has played a crucial role in events since the dawn of time, maintaining the physiognomy of galactic movements, biological processes, and planetary tectonics. Lightning, cold, heat, light and rainbows are some of the manifestations of the flows of space.

Observing the manifestations of electricity in the universe is one thing; taming it as potential energy is another. However, the philosophical, poetic, and physical theories that accumulated long before electricity played a crucial role in its materialisation. The diversity of life in nature is the great domain of teaching and the source of inspiration for research. When reviewing cinema and the arts, a few notable achievements come to mind that will leave a lasting impact. The list includes the pyramids, the clock, matches, the aeroplane, weapons, surgery, the telephone, the syringe and electricity.

Electricity has become an important source of energy because it can produce other forms of energy and generate itself; or, conversely, it can use other forms of energy to generate itself. Investment in government programmes to generate electricity indicates the importance attached to this form of energy. Global heating is disrupting the ecological character of some electricity production. The economic and military revolutions of certain powers have been based on the development of electricity. The Inga dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although still in the process of elastic expansion, remains one of the most imposing infrastructures for the production of electricity, just as the states had imagined it. It draws its energy from the second most powerful river in the world, which contributes to the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen credit through the peat bogs in its basin. The Renaissance Dam, built on a major tributary of the Nile, is the latest concrete example of what is at stake when it comes to electricity, having sparked open conflict between nations. Electricity is produced by coal- or oil-fired power stations, nuclear power stations, solar farms, biomass, solar fields, wind farms that still remind us of the windmill, gas-fired power stations, geothermal power stations and many other unknown and unimagined technologies. All these means of producing electricity involve an exchange of energy between themselves and the earth.

The Earth is home to countless microorganisms that move across its surface and within its mass. This ‘micro-life’ includes aquatic and terrestrial animals, as well as tiny insects that are barely visible to the naked eye, testifying to miniaturisation as an aspect of nature. The living beings physiology consists of multiple suction and delivery pumps that are powered by a specific amount of electrical energy. This energy enables tiny organisms to function normally in proportion to their physiology. The micro-life that dwells within the Earth revives the notion of ‘intra-terrestrial’ beings as a complement to the expression of the extra-terrestrial, which, in the role of hero or anti-hero, continues to feed the imagination of filmmakers as an element in perpetual and direct conflict with the terrestrial. But what if extra-terrestrial life was nothing more than rain, lightning, or some other unsuspected phenomenon that found refuge in the earth’s depths? However, it should be noted that NASA and other research agencies are closely monitoring the recurring phenomenon of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the sky. This has led to various hypotheses, including debris falling from satellites, military espionage by other countries, or even extra-terrestrial spying using earthly technology. It is crucial to investigate and gather more information to determine the cause of these sightings. By using the method of ‘induction-deduction’, humans have begun to explore unknown space by means of spacecraft after making several observations from the ground. It is believed that celestial bodies have been visiting Earth for a long time, before being returned naturally or artificially. The idea of living beings falling from the sky to feed the Earth remains a subject of scientific curiosity. For if such legends of parachuting celestial beings, animal or humanoid, were true, they would fundamentally challenge current theoretical paradigms of human evolution. Whatever the case, the fact remains that humanity has not finished spitting out the revelations of its evolution. The process of adaptation means that all eras of humanity remain true to their theoretical moment and essence. The Earth represents the common denominator.

Nuclear waste has been seeping from the Earth since the nuclear adventure began, even though the raw uranium used to produce plutonium was extracted from the Earth along with other ores and minerals. Scientific research continues to study dead bodies and cells, which, far from being definitively ‘dead’, are given new life in experiments designed to sustain other bodies. Both uprooted and felled trees can recover and live longer. Biological research has already made advancements in frozen embryos, genetically modified organisms, stem cells, organ transplants, cloning and hybridisation. Transcendent utopian and non-utopian research, which raises ethical concerns, is also being explored. Cyborging, teleportation and prolonged hibernation can be used to interrupt cell growth and allow for the resumption of life at a later date.

In any case, electricity remains the primary energy source in this dynamic global landscape.

Despite the irrefutable proof of the power and elegance of electrical energy, the shadow of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons continues to loom over industries strategically covering the services offered by electrical energy. Electricity production infrastructures, the storage of electrical energy in batteries to power mobile units, and the battles over water, coltan and lithium do not necessarily make electricity a less polluting form of energy. Suppliers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the limitations on the working power of electricity in the areas of mobile industrial machinery and certain domestic appliances. This frustration is pushing them towards maintaining their dependence on a return to oil. Hybrid vehicles are emerging as a viable alternative. According to the media, one of the world’s best-known brands of electric cars, which has sold thousands of units, has been recalled due to a design fault. Not to blame this brand of recalled electric car, several products have already been recalled around the world for a variety of technical, strategic, ethical and legal reasons. Curiously, there has been a kind of relaxation about the pollution once attributed to ‘diesel’. Planes, which fly by the million in a unit of time, are not listed among the planet’s major polluters, perhaps because of their cruising altitude. However, logging is rightfully included in the pollution scoreboard. Negotiating with botanists and forestry specialists to distinguish between uprooting and felling a tree while keeping it planted in its roots, regardless of the tree’s age, can be challenging. Meanwhile, the practice of enriching agricultural soils for industrial or domestic consumption threaten the natural regeneration of soils, leading to a encouraging the use of genetically modified organisms in combination with highly chemical fertilisers and pesticides. If nations continue to prioritise political and economic protectionism, irreparable damage will occur to the environment and other areas of public life. This is why there has been an increase in climate meetings, often accompanied by theatrics due to the political divide between those who believe polluters should pay and those who do not. Perhaps we should launch a research campaign to reduce the increased use of firewood, which is being turned into charcoal in some parts of the world. Charcoal use could be replaced by electric heating or other safer alternatives. Ecologically speaking, there is much to be done regarding energy and heating, depending on the climate zone. However, if the world remains divided into categories such as applied universities versus corrupt universities, aristocratic democracies versus narcissistic democracies, and politically correct economies versus banana economies, it will be challenging to test basic ecological hypotheses and develop effective solutions. To extract legitimate desiderata for subsequent economic calculations and strategic projections, it is important to establish postulates for global achievements. However, conflicts over resources such as water, lithium, uranium, oil, copper, coltan or forests could take unexpected turns.

Philosophies and doctrines can offer hope, both physically and metaphysically. However, spiritual organisations can fall into traps such as hierarchy, logistics, and excessive spending. They may rely on electricity and physical security measures, and seek exemptions in transactions under the guise of charity.

Themes such as life and death, prosperity, heaven and Earth, oracles, the natural and the supernatural and the end of time are often used to maintain interest in and loyalty to certain actors. These themes intersect with scientific research but sometimes involve conflicting motives. Certain philosophers claim to have visited space and planets but have not disclosed the technologies used for their journey. It is claimed that prehistoric rulers, including those from Africa, used teleportation and flying carpets to transport themselves in real time. This list of metaphysical inconsistencies is not exhaustive. In order to maintain a remarkable presence in ecological approaches to planetary affairs, families and households must produce individuals with good personalities who can positively impact society. The school provides instruction, while dogma seeks to perpetuate a system that may threaten freedom of thought. This system also aims to provide social benefits, often at the expense of the common citizen, which can accelerate the issue of children and adults without a home. This is particularly true for administrations that do not have control over their databases. A database of populations and businesses, both national and international, could be a starting point for sustainable development and access to an ‘electri-city’ in which the relationship between energies is automatically reorganised, like ‘arti-ficial’ intelligence.