Nosukaay

Diane Cescutti (FR)

Nosukaay, the machine deity narrates a story about an alternative history of computation, shedding light on the connections between computers, Manjak weaving knowledge, and mathematics. The narrative blends texts, 3D images, and images shot in Aïssa Dione Tissus studio and Boulevard Canal4 outdoor weaving studio in Dakar, Senegal. 

Nosukaay is an interactive installation that is a first attempt at creating an altered “computer”—a textile machine that combines a West African loom and a computer. I used the structure of the Manjak loom in which the two traditional frames of the loom are replaced by two screens stripped of their plastic shells, retaining only the thinnest functional envelope. 

Viewers are invited to use the Manjak loincloth, handwoven by myself and weaver Edimar Rosa in Dakar, as a keyboard to navigate the story. By stroking, touching, caressing different parts of the fabric, viewers can make choices to explore different parts of the film/videogame. Each choice defines one’s unique position within the storyline, revealing certain aspects of the tactile-visual experience while concealing others. If users make a choice that does not respect the machine deity and the importance of the knowledge transmitted, they get ejected from the game and must restart from the very beginning. This aspect of the experience is very important. Traditional and sacred knowledge cannot be transmitted unconditionally—a relationship of trust must be built. 

When I met Edimar Rosa in 2022, he and other weavers were at first reluctant to teach me Manjak weaving, firstly, because it’s a craft practiced by men only and secondly, because they wanted to know what my intentions were. I wanted to find a way to stay true to their mindset and that is why the artwork Nosukaay asks the user the same question I was asked. 

‘Nosukaay’ means “computer” in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal. The term is not universally accepted; it was coined by the group of scholars Wolof ak xamle (Wolof and transmission of knowledge) that aims to extend the Wolof  vocabulary, especially by adding academic and scientifics terms. It is a common misconception that African languages lack the necessary terminologies to teach subjects like mathematics, science, and technology. This ignores the numerous contributions made by the Continent in these fields. 

Nosukaay talks about computers of ancient times . The word used to describe someone or something who computes. Now humans and all other entities have been erased from the definition, as have diverse haptic properties like thickness and softness. A computer is also a system. In the case of the Manjak computer, the link between the loom (motherboard), the threads (random access memory), the weaver, the assistant (central processing unit), and the person that creates the pattern (hard drive) is the computer. Donella Meadows taught us that while we may not fully comprehend systems, we can dance with them. Her guidelines for caring interactions with them are scattered throughout this piece, engraved on 3D printed combs. 

By interacting with Nosukaay, you, the user, become an integral part of a system, quite literally. As you place your hands on the woven key cloth, you close the electrical circuit of the artwork thanks to your natural conductivity. This property allows multiple individuals to experience the work simultaneously by joining hands, letting a safe amount of electricity flow from one body to another before going back to Nosukaay. From the square lashings securing the installation’s structure to the open source softwares powering the interactive tactilo-visual experience, I used a combinaison of acessible tools and techniques. I want to offer an inspiring vision of technologies that feel within reach in this age of digital divide.

Nosukaay, the machine deity narrates a story about an alternative history of computation, shedding light on the connections between computers, Manjak weaving knowledge, and mathematics. The narrative blends texts, 3D images, and images shot in Aïssa Dione Tissus studio and Boulevard Canal4 outdoor weaving studio in Dakar, Senegal. 

Nosukaay is an interactive installation that is a first attempt at creating an altered “computer”—a textile machine that combines a West African loom and a computer. I used the structure of the Manjak loom in which the two traditional frames of the loom are replaced by two screens stripped of their plastic shells, retaining only the thinnest functional envelope. 

Viewers are invited to use the Manjak loincloth, handwoven by myself and weaver Edimar Rosa in Dakar, as a keyboard to navigate the story. By stroking, touching, caressing different parts of the fabric, viewers can make choices to explore different parts of the film/videogame. Each choice defines one’s unique position within the storyline, revealing certain aspects of the tactile-visual experience while concealing others. If users make a choice that does not respect the machine deity and the importance of the knowledge transmitted, they get ejected from the game and must restart from the very beginning. This aspect of the experience is very important. Traditional and sacred knowledge cannot be transmitted unconditionally—a relationship of trust must be built. 

When I met Edimar Rosa in 2022, he and other weavers were at first reluctant to teach me Manjak weaving, firstly, because it’s a craft practiced by men only and secondly, because they wanted to know what my intentions were. I wanted to find a way to stay true to their mindset and that is why the artwork Nosukaay asks the user the same question I was asked. 

‘Nosukaay’ means “computer” in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal. The term is not universally accepted; it was coined by the group of scholars Wolof ak xamle (Wolof and transmission of knowledge) that aims to extend the Wolof  vocabulary, especially by adding academic and scientifics terms. It is a common misconception that African languages lack the necessary terminologies to teach subjects like mathematics, science, and technology. This ignores the numerous contributions made by the Continent in these fields. 

Nosukaay talks about computers of ancient times . The word used to describe someone or something who computes. Now humans and all other entities have been erased from the definition, as have diverse haptic properties like thickness and softness. A computer is also a system. In the case of the Manjak computer, the link between the loom (motherboard), the threads (random access memory), the weaver, the assistant (central processing unit), and the person that creates the pattern (hard drive) is the computer. Donella Meadows taught us that while we may not fully comprehend systems, we can dance with them. Her guidelines for caring interactions with them are scattered throughout this piece, engraved on 3D printed combs. 

By interacting with Nosukaay, you, the user, become an integral part of a system, quite literally. As you place your hands on the woven key cloth, you close the electrical circuit of the artwork thanks to your natural conductivity. This property allows multiple individuals to experience the work simultaneously by joining hands, letting a safe amount of electricity flow from one body to another before going back to Nosukaay. From the square lashings securing the installation’s structure to the open source softwares powering the interactive tactilo-visual experience, I used a combinaison of acessible tools and techniques. I want to offer an inspiring vision of technologies that feel within reach in this age of digital divide.

dianecescutti.com/works/nosukaay/
www.youtube.com/watch?v=939QlKGURoI

Video: Sarah Maupin

Photos: Blanche Lafargue

Woven Manjak loincloth: Edimar Rosa  

Shooting location : Aïssa Dione Tissus and Boulevard Canal 4 outdoor weaving studio Both in Dakar, Senegal

With support from: École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon (ENSBA Lyon); Post-diplôme Art; Labo NRV ; Raw Material Company, Centre d'art image/imatge ; Villa Saint-Louis Ndar de l'Institut français du Sénégal, le 19M

Diane Cescutti (FRborn in 1998, is a French transmedia artist. She lives and works in Saint Etienne, France. She studied  Fine Arts and textile in the École des Beaux-Arts de Nantes in France, Tokyo University of the Arts in Japan, and in the University of Houston in the United States. Her practice starts from the loom at the origin of computation.  By tracing the history of computer code, she finds herself entangled in the world of weaving, and by following the crossing of the fibers of her loom, she ends up at its ethereal form: its algorithm. Through a histofuturist, speculative and narrative approach, she explores the historical, technological, mathematical and aesthethic links between weaving, textiles and computers. By employing techniques such as weaving, sculpture, installations, videos, and 3D art, she seeks to redefine and challenge our understanding of technology and textiles, as well as their roles as vessels for transmitting knowledge, data, traditions, and spirituality.

Diane Cescutti (FR) born in 1998, is a French transmedia artist. She lives and works in Saint Etienne, France. She studied  Fine Arts and textile in the École des Beaux-Arts de Nantes in France, Tokyo University of the Arts in Japan, and in the University of Houston in the United States. Her practice starts from the loom at the origin of computation.  By tracing the history of computer code, she finds herself entangled in the world of weaving, and by following the crossing of the fibers of her loom, she ends up at its ethereal form: its algorithm. Through a histofuturist, speculative and narrative approach, she explores the historical, technological, mathematical and aesthethic links between weaving, textiles and computers. By employing techniques such as weaving, sculpture, installations, videos, and 3D art, she seeks to redefine and challenge our understanding of technology and textiles, as well as their roles as vessels for transmitting knowledge, data, traditions, and spirituality.

The loom could be envisioned as a programmable machine that encodes knowledge into fabric, serving as a means of preserving and transmitting culture; while the computer processes data, the loom preserves stories and traditions. ‘Nosukaay’ means computer in Wolof, a language spoken by people in much of West Africa; the installation Nosukaay merges textile hapticity with the digital space to produce a hybrid that expands the notion of interactivity. It is based on an modified Manjacque loom, in which the loom's frames are replaced by two screens that introduce a video game in which the users interact with the "wisdom of the system" through a deity. Its tactile interface is made of Manjak loincloth, woven by the artist Edimar Rosa in Dakar. If the player makes a choice that does not respect the machine deity and hence the importance of the knowledge transmitted, the user gets ejected from the game and sent back to the beginning. Nosukaay as a textile-computer hybrid allows us to rethink the concept of the "computer" through a rich tapestry of shared understanding that interweaves craft with computationapractices.

The loom could be envisioned as a programmable machine that encodes knowledge into fabric, serving as a means of preserving and transmitting culture; while the computer processes data, the loom preserves stories and traditions. ‘Nosukaay’ means computer in Wolof, a language spoken by people in much of West Africa; the installation Nosukaay merges textile hapticity with the digital space to produce a hybrid that expands the notion of interactivity. It is based on an modified Manjacque loom, in which the loom's frames are replaced by two screens that introduce a video game in which the users interact with the "wisdom of the system" through a deity. Its tactile interface is made of Manjak loincloth, woven by the artist Edimar Rosa in Dakar. If the player makes a choice that does not respect the machine deity and hence the importance of the knowledge transmitted, the user gets ejected from the game and sent back to the beginning. Nosukaay as a textile-computer hybrid allows us to rethink the concept of the "computer" through a rich tapestry of shared understanding that interweaves craft with computational practices.