Maxwell Mutanda is a pluridisciplinary researcher, designer and visual artist whose data visualisation and architectural practice investigates the role of globalisation, climate and technology within the built environment. He is a co-founder of Studio [D] Tale, a multidisciplinary design research firm. His achievements include the 2018 AFRICA’SOUT! Artist-in-Residence at Denniston Hill, New York; as well as fellowships at The New Museum’s IdeasCity New Orleans; and at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart (2020). Maxwell studied Architecture at the Bartlett, University College London and is the 2020 MSc in Sustainable Urban Development Sheehan Scholarship awardee at the University of Oxford. His work has been featured at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen; Arc en Rêve Centre d’Architecture, Bordeaux; the 2014 and 2016 Venice Architecture Biennales; the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial; the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019.
What do you plan to do during Phase 1 of Rapid Response?
During Phase 1 of Rapid Response I will research the covalence between the “Right to the City” and accessible digital space by investigating technology’s impact on the spatial injustice of digital platform workers in the Global South, particularly motorcycle couriers. Didactic digital research methodologies—including participatory research, cascading workshops and statistical surveys—will develop interactive artwork and historiographic mapping that express the poetics of belonging, labour and colonial data systems. My ambition is to develop augmented (digital and physical) research methodologies that shift or adjust to accommodate the new and undiscovered. Transparent and accountable real-world prototypes, advocacy and public policy development will be translated online using open-access interactive portals for geospatial data analysis such as Maploom, MapBox, Tableau or OpenStreetMap and physically with sculptural artefacts and architectural propositions. In conclusion the work will be a humanist space for imagination that explore indeterminacy and multiplicity using software to script conditional statements relating to the real or imagined spatialities of dark kitchens, motorcycles, streetscapes and domestic space.
How does your work relate to the theme of the open call?
The “Rapid Response for a Better Digital Future” program is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the borderless nature of global digital systems and their wide-reaching algorithmic control, which is a form of colonial capitalism. The work is thoughtful examination, experimentation, and engagement relating to how digital practices shape space, place and society makes it the right place to develop this project, which combines artistic and scientific research methodologies. Algorithmic control reaches beyond the screen. Right now, as a consequence of the global pandemic, wider society cannot deny that at-home or kerbside non-standard digital labour lacks adequate sanitation or affordable, stable access to digital space: a phenomenon that the work seeks to redefine.
What does the future look like to you?
The Internet is not egalitarian. Social and economic inequality characterises capitalism today, as when the sixteenth-century German theologian Martin Luther said: “An earthly Kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons. Some must be free, some serfs, some rulers, some subjects.” The future looks better when cities, in keeping with Rudofsky’s argument against an Architecture “of merchant princes and princes of blood,” present a non-western redress to the colonising gaze and serfdom of the mobile phone economy which perpetuates historic land appropriation, discrimination, displacement and containment.
What is your grounding ethos?
I am guided by the idea of Ubuntu: “umntu ngumntu ngabantu,” a saying that translates as “people are people because of others.” In this regard, architecture, the built environment and spatial practices, now more than ever, can be seen as spaces that become places because of others. Whether these are digital or physical spaces; what I do relates to you as much as what you do relates to me.