Into the ecosphere

A trilogy of element-inspired exhibition rooms use art to explore the concept of worldmaking.

The JCAF in Forest Town, Johannesburg, will host Ecospheres until 7 December 2024. The immersive exhibition unpacks the human relationship with the natural environment across three ‘rooms’ that include installations of hydroponic plants, an oceanic-inspired knitted textile, botanic photography, sound, and meditative paintings of migratory birds.


The JCAF (Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation) is dedicated to research, technology and art. It is a hybrid of an academic research institute, an innovative technology laboratory and a platform for exhibitions. JCAF curates its programmes according to a three-year theme, the current being ‘Worldmaking’ (2024 - 2026) which follows the first theme ‘Female Identities in the Global South’ (2020-2022).


The concept of ‘Worldmaking’ explores the ways we collectively create the spaces we inhabit around us through symbolic practices, via a trilogy of exhibitions, with an accompanying series of talks and publications.


The first exhibition is Ecospheres, which aims to address the topic of ecology, the environment, climate and the natural world through the concept of ‘making with’ (living with). Ecospheres unpacks the notion of Symbioscene (the thinking that humans are to live as part of a harmonious interaction between all living creatures) as opposed to the current period of Anthropocene (where human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment). ‘The process of making with suggests that nothing makes itself,’ says JCAF’s Executive Director, Clive Kellner. ‘When we make with, we are inextricably bound to the earth. There is a sense that we - as humanity - are responsible for the earth and all living creatures as a form of stewardship.’


The exhibition is divided into three sections, or ‘atmospheres’, based on the elements of water, air and earth. The idea, while appropriate to environmental issues, is taken from museum director Alexander Dorner’s idea of atmosphere rooms, which he described as groupings of artworks from historic periods and styles in discrete rooms. These atmospheres function as conceptual spaces that foreground and amplify various artists and artworks in relation to the themes of the exhibition.


Featured artists in each atmosphere room include Zina Saro-Wiwa, Zizipho Poswa, Ernesto Neto, Russell Scott, Michael Tsegaye, Zayaan Khan, Coila-Leah Enderstein, Mater, Jonah Sack, Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Rithika Merchant, Bronwyn Katz and Sutapa Biswas.


The exhibition also includes two special projects: a mural and a reading room. The mural The Other Side of Dreaming (2024), commissioned for the exhibition by JCAF, is by illustrator Rebecca Potterton and welcomes visitors into Ecospheres. Drawing inspiration from the intricate ecosystems intertwined with the atmospheres, Potterton delves into the interplay in nature, illuminating the complexity and diversity in natural environments.


The reading room by Wolff Architects accompanies the three atmospheres with a structure dedicated to a single publication: the ‘Ecospheres Reader’ by JCAF. The structure, inspired by the concept and tradition of conviviality in art spaces in Johannesburg, fosters conversations and social engagements while also providing a space for reflection and pause in what the architects describe as ‘a table with walls, a library without shelves or a room in a room’.



Happy by nature 


Change for all


All’s fair