LAS Art Foundation

swell of spæc(i)es: Audio Description

15 Mai 2024

Pavilion by UNA / UNLESS

Artist Josèfa Ntjam’s installation swell of spæc(i)es is located in a pavilion in the courtyard of the Academia di Belle Arti di Venezia. The courtyard is framed by the building’s loggia, a walkway covered by vaulted columns, with the building’s second storey above it. The pavilion is shaped like a triangular prism. It has a highly reflective royal blue exterior made from a stretched polymer foil which undulates in the wind. The pavilion occupies over one third of the courtyard, with a footprint measuring 367.5 square metres. One point of the triangle is near the centre of the courtyard, and it opens out from there, with its opposite side completely open towards the rear loggia. The roof of the pavilion angles up, measuring 2 metres at the point and rising to 6.3 metres where it abuts the loggia.


The open side of the pavilion is accessed via the loggia. The interior surfaces of the entryway are navy blue, with white-coloured text on the side walls. Curtains hang along a convex rail spanning the length of the entry area. The first layer of curtain is a red and blue metallic mesh, which creates the illusion of purple. It glimmers in the light. The centre of the curtain is illuminated by blue-filtered light, creating a blue to purple gradient along its length. Behind it, two layers of navy curtain hang.

swell of spæc(i)es installation by Josèfa Ntjam

The installation is accessed via the left side of the curtain. Upon entering the space, two jellyfish-shaped sculptures, a large womb-like sculpture and two configurations of soft seating can be seen. The floor is covered in navy carpet. The ceiling is covered in black foam tiles, and dips down towards a rounded point in the back of the space. Taking a step into the installation, a large LED screen can be seen to the immediate right, curving along the same line as the curtain. It is 12.2 metres long and 3.43 metres high. Its image is reflected on a shiny black area of flooring cut in a kidney shape placed along the bottom edge of the screen, level with the carpet. A film 23 minutes and 18 seconds in duration loops on the LED screen.


The film is primarily a 3D animation, with one scene of live action footage recorded in an aquarium. It is a perfect loop, and therefore has no beginning and no end. In the film, a figure that is part statue, part octopus can be seen in the darkness of outer space. The figure casts a stone into the void, which breaks into rocky debris and luminous plankton stars. The stars are devoured by an astral snake with a long purplish-blue fin and whose yellow body is covered in pink- and purple-coloured coral and algae. The camera takes us through its mouth to the inside of its belly, which is also lined with marine vegetation. The stars are seen hardening into rocks and fossils, and a ring-shaped statue of conjoined water spirits encircles a sphere of water. The camera moves through the snake’s skin, where photographs of the artist’s grandfather and aunt, the decolonial revolutionary Djouka Elisabeth and pan-African writers the Nardal sisters are layered into a kaleidoscope of yellow- and pink-coloured cells. Back out in space, a planet emerges from the snake’s mouth. The camera zooms in on the planet, moving through its cloudy atmosphere down to its bright, fossil-covered surface. The snake appears on the horizon, shaking water off its body as it loops above the surface. The conjoined spirits float in the pool of water formed by the snake, and the camera zooms in towards them, moving through their watery orb into the dark depths of the ocean. Jellyfish swim around the screen and an octopus slowly comes into view. Above the octopus’s eyes is the face of the statue seen in the beginning. The octopus moves out of the frame, and the statue first seen floating in space comes back into view, beginning the narrative anew.

Sculptures and Scenography

One of the jellyfish sculptures is suspended near the entry curtain. Its base is an opaque purplish-blue vertical tendril. At the top of the tendril, four red petals unfold around a red sphere, which contains a speaker. Atop the sphere is a large, transparent-white dome. Thin black lines radiate out from its centre, like nerves. The sculpture is 2.2 metres high and 1.2 metres in diameter. It hangs roughly 25 centimetres above the floor. An identical sculpture is suspended in the far corner of the space, coloured in hues of red, orange and yellow. Both are lit from above and below, with the top light increasing and reducing in brightness over the course of the film’s cycle. The womb-like sculpture is a vibrant orange and semi-transparent membrane. It is 3 metres long, 1.7 metres wide and 1.1 metre high, and shaped like a mound with a large opening on one side. It is lit by LED strips hidden in the base of the interior that change colour through the film’s duration. When the film’s scenes are dark, as in outer space or deep underwater, the sculpture appears pink with blue accents. When the film’s scenes are colourful, the membrane appears vibrant pink. When the film’s scenes are lighter, as on the surface of the planet, the membrane appears orange with white accents. The membrane’s interior cavity contains four black circular sound exciters that diffuse vibration, and a mattress covered in navy velvet. The velvet matches the many layers of covered foam making up the two soft seating areas, which rise like stratified rock in a cave or the sea floor. They have organic shapes: one positioned close to the screen is like a rounded triangle, and one stretching from the centre towards the point is like an elongated teardrop.

Related Event

Installation|20. April — 24. November 2024 | Geöffnet Do – So

Josèfa Ntjam : swell of spæc(i)es