Spotlight Artists! #2 Jonathan Dotse

Electric South

Part 2 of the “Spotlight Artists” series features Ghanaian technology evangelist and science-fiction writer Jonathan Dotse. Jonathan is the Founder of digital hypermedia publishing house, AfroCyberPunk Interactive, with roots in Afrofuturism as a continual inspiration of African recurrent themes, motifs, and aesthetics.

“… I’m finding that the more I focus on my immediate objectives, the clearer each next step and my long-term vision becomes.”

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Jonathan: I’ve always considered myself to be a generalist as far as techniques and mediums are concerned. I dabble in lots of different forms, but the underlying thread in my work is in creating deeply immersive experiences through narrative world-building, or creating virtual worlds in short.

How did you find yourself in your space, and what’s your creative vision?

Jonathan: I’ve always been engaged in various art forms since I was very young — writing science fiction, sketching art, and producing electronic music. I never made a conscious decision to become an artist professionally, but I suppose the turning point in my career was in 2015 when I quit my day job and began to explore VR storytelling with my first project — Pandora.

Pandora started as an attempt to demo a DIY VR headset which I had just built at the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Accra using online VR content. Along the way, my colleagues and I decided to create our own content, and so work on the film began two weeks before the exhibition. The concept behind Pandora was to paint an allegory about the transformative potential of VR in Africa, but with an implied warning to respect this power.

The connection may not be immediately apparent but Spirit Robot actually is, in a roundabout way, a kind of sequel or response to Pandora. It explores the Chale Wote Street Art Festival, which is where Pandora was first screened to the public. It is in some ways a study of the alternative cultural scene in Accra, which I’m proud to consider myself a part, that contributed to the creation of Pandora and my own involvement in the art space.

Scene from Spirit Robot — A VR film which explores the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Accra.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Jonathan: I draw my inspiration from the narrative or virtual experiences that have left me completely enraptured. I think every avid reader for example, has had several magical moments where the world around them fades aways as they disappear into the pages of a book. This is the essence of virtual reality for me — and while it’s dangerous to see fictional worlds as an escape, I like to think that the point is not to run away or escape from reality, but to bring something meaningful back into it.

What’s your favourite piece of work?

Jonathan: I’m a hardcore cyberpunk fanboy, so my favorites include more than a few classics: Blade Runner, Neuromancer, the Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, etc. One of my all time favorite creative experiences was developing and showing the Elsewhen installation in Dakar in 2016, because, I think the physical dimension added so much more to the immersion of the virtual experience.

What does your workspace typically look like?

Jonathan: Well, my workspace is pretty much half recycling workshop and half hackerspace. I try to use as many recycled components as I can when prototyping anything, including electronics, fabrics, metals, and plastics. I generally have multiple screens around me on regular basis, and I’m a big fan of free and open-source software.

… any challenges you have experienced on this journey?

Jonathan: I can honestly say that my biggest challenge has been defining my own path in this new space. The opportunities and scope for exploration are bewildering, and there is a constant temptation to do or try everything at once. However, I’m finding that the more I focus on my immediate objectives the clearer each next step and my long-term vision becomes.

which artists would you like to collaborate with?

Jonathan: Wow, I have a long list of African artists I’d love to work with: Nnedi Okorafor, Wanuri Kahiu, and Lauren Beukes immediately come to mind, because of their amazing work in science fiction and fantasy literature.

I recently had an incredible opportunity to collaborate with the Afro-Brazilian playwright Diego Pinheiro in Salvador, Bahia, and I would love to work with more artists in Brazil and across Latin America. I’m also building relationships with several young up-and-coming artists across Africa and I’m really excited for some of the projects I have lined up in the near future.

Fantastic, any future plans?

Jonathan: I’m very happy about the progress I’ve made so far, but I have a long way ahead if I’m going to bring all of my dreams to life. I’ve just launched a digital studio and publishing house called AfroCyberPunk Interactive, and I’m in the process of developing new ways of creating and sharing immersive and interactive narrative worlds using digital hyper-media. I’m also involved in the commercial space with a company called Immerse Africa through which I aim to promote and pioneer VR and AR technology services starting in Ghana and later expanding to different parts of Africa.

How about advice for aspiring creators?

Jonathan: My advice to creators is never be afraid to take risks, and to never doubt your own abilities, or your capacity to continually improve every aspect of your life and work. We are living in a rare time in human history where the possibilities of the future are expanding before us at an exponential rate. You have the power to manifest your vision into reality, in a way that no-one else in the world can, and there is no better time than now to take that leap.

Keep up with his incredible work >> Website

Read the previous edition here…

As Electric South, we’re committed to shining light on the digital creative space in the region, and the stories of these rising African creatives — making their mark in the space — is one that we’re very committed to telling.

Electric South

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Funding, incubating and exhibiting the work of African creators - focused on innovative digital visual storytelling, VR, mobile and non-fiction.

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