appropriations: disobedient devices

Since 2017, Greenman Muleh Mbillo, Joan Otieno and Dani Ploeger have been working together in Nairobi, Kenya, to imagine alternate technological everydays through the appropriation of used digital devices: a techno-culture that connects to people’s lifeworlds, instead of imposing globalized standards of operation and interaction; an approach to technology that goes beyond nihilistic and unsustainable ideologies of endless growth and ‘progress.’

The project has two starting points: Firstly, it builds on the widespread appropriation and repair practices of discarded devices in Kenya – known as ‘orodha’ in Kiswahili. Secondly, it connects and intertwines these practices with local stories, memories and myths around technological pasts and futures. During two workshops with a group of Nairobi-based artists, electronics technicians and scholars, an exchange was established around stories and memories related to regional customs and technologies, as well as colonial perspectives. After this, a collection of both imaginary and functional devices were created from orodha items collected at local markets.

A selection of these devices subsequently formed the basis for the production of three short films, one by each of the artists. In these, the devices are reframed in three different ways, in the context of science-fiction spaces and mythical imaginations. Obsessions with technological functionality and efficiency are left behind to make space for imaginary techno-worlds around symbolic and fluid interactions with technology.

Disobedient Devices has been supported by The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and Warembo Wasanii art center in Nairobi. It received funding through Global Challenges Research Fund, UK. The project has been presented at Warembo Wasanii art centre in Nariobi, the Nairobi National Museum and V2_Lab for the unstable media in Rotterdam. Future presentations are envisaged at Nouvelles Vagues Gallery in Sotogrande in Spain, Bern University of the Arts in Switzerland, Film by the Sea in Flushing, Netherlands and the 2021 Digital Research in the Humanities and the Arts conference in Berlin, among others