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Marcus Neustetter

By Anthea Buys

Marcus Neustetter
erosion, December 2010. performance .

On a dark and stormy day in Tromso, Norway, on the deep-frozen northern dome of the earth, two men in snowsuits waded through the earth’s ice crust. They were on the side of the Arctic Circle invented for the purpose of keeping the earth round, rather than for supporting any reasonable forms of life, and they were cold. Wise men behaving like fools, they were looking into the impossibly cloudy sky for a sign – not the sign of a saviour (though a hot chocolate stand would have been nice), but evidence that the sun still existed. The Aurora Borealis was their astronomical conquest, and Marcus Neustetter, one of the two frigid waders, was determined that the clouds should break and the legendary solar flare should dance across the polar sky in all its hazy green glory. Sadly it didn’t. Not on that particular dark and stormy day or on any of the others in the weeks of late 2009 during which Neustetter and James Webb, his snow-suited companion, braved the blizzards of the extreme north.

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Since his failed northern lights expedition, Neustetter has sated his fascination with the Aurora simply by making his own, much closer to home and in warmer climes. Photographed under the right conditions, ordinary plastic glow sticks tossed into the air light up the nighttime sky with a dazzle of colours rare in genuine Aurora sightings. A green laser pointed at a tray of water which vibrates to Webb’s recording of the aurora’s feint crackle, looks remarkably like the real thing.

These examples come from bodies of work Neustetter made after his sojourn to the northernmost region of Norway. They are inspired by the acts of searching and observing, and the play of an extreme environment on the senses. They come from, and demand, a subtle shift in one’s perception of places, scale, orientation, time, and poetic and causal relationships between phenomena. And, even to the most jaded viewer, they are testament to Nuestetter’s uncommon resourcefulness.

Since his days as a junior fine art student at the University of the Witwatersrand, Neustetter has been making his own way in the art world, often under circumstances which would induce others to bow out and enroll for business diplomas. Concurrently running three art-related businesses while studying, one of which involved drawing as entertainment at children’s parties, Neustetter managed to pay his way through university and buy his first car. More recently, he is well-known in a similarly entrepreneurial capacity, as a co-director, with Stephen Hobbs, of the art production and facilitation enterprise The Trinity Session.  Its presence in the country growing tremendously over the years, The Trinity Session has operated as the commissioning agent for several major public art projects, particularly in Johannesburg. Clive van den Berg’s Eland, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx’s Firewalker, the artworks on the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit stations, and the refurbishment of many public parks and playgrounds around the city are but some of the projects managed by The Trinity Session.

In the background, while South Africa knew him as the quieter half of the Trinity Session and a proprietor of the Premises Gallery, the international art community recognised Neustetter as one of South Africa’s pioneer digital media artists. Neustetter’s first computer-based artworks were made at a time when most personal computers still ran DOS, and the internet, in South Africa at least, was only just leaving the realm of science fiction for reality. His international repute as a digital media artist has lead to his participation in major events for art and technology including, most recently, the annual ISEA electronic arts festival, a roaming symposium and exhibitions event which manifests in a different European city each year.

In 2003, a time when mobile phone graphics were still pixellated, and novel even so, Neustetter presented a mobile phone intervention and exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which enabled audiences to download site-specific mobile-phone graphics. Designed by Neustettter, these graphics corresponded to graphics and information installed and projected within the gallery. Another of Neustetter’s early innovations in technology and art was a 2005 project produced in collaboration with Nathaniel Stern titled the Getaway Experiment. In this project Neustetter and Stern commissioned sign-writers from downtown Johannesburg to 'remix' live websites by creating hand-drawn versions of originally digitally-rendered website images.

While Neustetter’s interest in and use of technology in the context of art has not diminished, it has evolved. By his own admission, Neustetter previously tended to avoid traditional art activities like drawing and sculpture, in favour of highly cerebral artefacts that prioritised the possibilities of technological media. A turning point for Neustetter was his solo exhibition at the Parking Gallery in Johannesburg in 2006. Titled ‘Still Experimenting, Still Playing’, the exhibition comprised an installation in which 10 000 wooden cubes and reams of dot matrix computer paper were used to improvise an environment that took on the atmosphere of an organic topography.

Since then Neustetter’s practice has become far more hospitable to ‘making’ in the traditional sense. Most significantly, he returned to his first love, drawing, and now seldom does a day go by on which the artist does not sketch. Increasingly over the last few years, Neustetter’s drawing has been closely linked to collaborations with other artists and with travel. A trip to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2006 gave him the inspirational impetus for 'In Two Minds', an exhibition and artist’s book of digital photographs, drawings and Google Earth tracings, launched by Gallery AOP in April 2008. In a statement accompanying the body of work, Neustetter writes of the experience: 'the night was so clear that the lights of the city of Moshi at the foot of the mountain seemed to be reflected in the stars of the sky'. This experience triggered a long process of collecting related references, spotting parities and trying to recreate the nuances of that moment through other images and juxtapositions.

Since then, trips to Sutherland, and particularly the SALT Telescope at Sutherland’s famous observatory, to the Cradle of Humankind, the Vredefort Dome south of Johannesburg, to the Arctic Circle and to more habitable environments such as New York City and Bergen, Norway, have had Neustetter filling Moleskine notebooks with sketches that evoke sensations or actions associated with these diverse places.

Another vital characteristic of Neustetter’s practice is his collaborations with other artists and creative practitioners. In addition to his long-term working relationship with Stephen Hobbs, Neustetter has worked extensively with Nathaniel Stern, with Bronwyn Lace, Austrian artist Walter Stach, and David Andrew. Together Andrew and Neustetter staged an intervention project titled ‘C30’ at the PJ Simelane Secondary School in Dobsonville, Soweto, which examined the relationship between education, learning and creativity.


On the title of the exhibition ‘Still Experimenting, Still Playing’:‘To me that’s what the essence of making work is, this experimental, playful uncertainty. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but I just trust that it will lead to something.’

On juggling projects: ‘I’ve never believed in making just one thing at a time. I think I’d die if I had to do one thing. It’s that give and take of doing several things at once that keeps me always thinking about something.”

On the diversity of his work: ‘That’s the influence of everyone I’ve worked with’.

Neustetter and Hobbs on their 2007 project 'Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow':‘It was a dialogue that seemed to shape between our feet and the ground we were walking on, working its way upwards as we continued on our journey.’



Bronwyn Lace, artist and collaborator: ‘Marcus is very flexible and intuitive and has a real ability to adjust in a collaborative situation. He adjusts his own approach and working style depending on that of whoever he’s collaborating with, and I think that’s what makes him so successful at it.’

Mary Corrigall, journalist with the Sunday Independent: ‘His reliance on the sensory experience of reality makes him the ultimate empiricist. However, the manner in which he surrenders to the irrational, the unseen, the chaotic and the unknowable defies this. That his practice moves between these two approaches is what makes it so interesting.’ (Sunday Independent, November 21, 2010)

Nathaniel Stern, for Rhizome, New Museum, 2004 ( ‘I was most interested not only in his exhibition of work, but also in his creation of a space where South African viewers were asked to challenge their notions of “how to look at” art. In a place where access to technology and the comfort level around it is still fairly limited, we now have artist-curators using new media and new media influenced strategies to provoke explorations of identity, translocality, globalization, historicity, public dialogue, and art in general.’



Together with Bronwyn Lace, Neustetter is in Sutherland until late January 2011, continuing a project initiated in 2008 in order to try to create links between the local community in Sutherland and the scientific community that congregates around Sutherland’s observatory. This project has grown significantly since 2008, and thanks to increased support from scientific and artistic communities, the project is now facilitating conversations between artists and scientists with a view to working together to mutual benefit. He also continues to draw every day.


Neustetter’s most recent solo exhibition of digital and handmade drawings, 'In Motion', rounded up Gallery AOP’s 2010 exhibitions programme. The exhibition featured a light drawing performance, in which Neustetter used a simple light-detection programme to create drawings tracing movement and the presence of light. In early-December, Neustetter choreographed and participated in a performance on the steps of Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square titled Erosion. In this piece, Neustetter had 6000 phosphorescent glowsticks strewn over the steps and then swept up again, in an act of small-scale urban land-drawing.


Select Artworks / Exhibitions

'In motion', solo exhibition at Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
Erosion (performance), presented at the 'Public Art Around The World' opening event produced by AAW Art Project Management at Burgher’s Walk, Sandton Central, Sandton
Flare', Kruger Street experimental intervention, Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg
Snow Groomer I and II (video artworks) and Reflection (site-specific performance) on group exhibition 'Ecotopian States' curated by Jacki McInnes, The University of Johannesburg Gallery, Johannesburg
'Dialogue Tower', collaborative drawing project during the 2010 FIFA-World Cup with Walter Stach, Right on the Rim, Johannesburg
Unravel I-V (digital light drawings) on the group exhibition 'Draw Links', Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
Vredefort Dome II on the group exhibition '11 Freunde', Baden-Wurtemberg, Germany
'Between Heaven and Earth', permanent exhibition on the 5th floor of Main Street Life, Johannesburg
Public Artwork commission by the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency for the Earnest Oppenheimer Park in collaboration with Sipho Gwala, Johannesburg [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'Windows of our Heroes and Heroines', public Artwork commission by the eThekwini Municipality for an artwork at the Princess Magogo Stadium in Kwa Mashu, Durban [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'URBANET: Alex/ Zimbabwe/Mozambique', supported by SDC programme of Pro Helvetia Cape Town, Interventions in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Alexandra Township [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'Entracte', in partnership with Ker Thiossane and Afropixels 2010, Dakar [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'Depth threats', residency and exhibition with Stiftelsen 3,14 Gallery, Bek Center, USF and Maia Urstad, Bergen, Norway [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'URBANET Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow' presented at Arco 2010 on the African Pavilion hosted by Ker Thiossane  [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
Featured Artist at the 2010 Johannesburg Art Fair by Gallery AOP
'Between Heaven and Earth' exhibition at the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees 2010, Oudtshoorn
1886-1896 - 12 Decades Hotel artist room in collaboration with Jonathan Liebmann for Main Street Life, Johannesburg
'Vision', Main Street life, maquette, sketch and plans for a permanent installation on the rooftop of Main Street life development. Johannesburg
'The Visual Collider', artist book presentation and projection with Nina Czegledy at The Banff Centre, Banff, Canada
'The Visual Collider' in New York, artist book presentation and projection with Nina Czegledy at Art on Dobbin, Brooklyn, New York

'The observatory in the making - observation structures and sites of discovery', solo exhibition, Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
'Sutherland interventions - interventions in the landscape of the South African Astronomical Observatory', documented by Mike Carelse
'Return to Sutherland 09', land art interventions and kite flying event with Bronwyn Lace, Sutherland
'Sutherland reflected', exhibition at Goethe on Main, Arts on Main with Bronwyn Lace.
'Soundlines - a drawing for sound interpretation', event and CD launch at Sound and Motion Studios, Johannesburg
'Chasing Light - sounds of the northern lights by James Webb', light, water and laser intervention, Outlet Project Room, Pretoria
'Fietas kites', workshops, flying events and rooftop kite flying experiments with Bronwyn Lace, Johannesburg
'Stadium-Scape / Ocean-Scape', commissioned public artwork in perspex and adhesive vinyl for the Durban Soccer Stadium, Durban [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'Public Art should have at least three functions', site-specific installation for the African Perspectives conference and exhibition 'The Heart of the African City', Pretoria [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'URBANET 80+1 LINZ/JHB' for Ars Electronica’s '80+1 - a journey around the world', Linz, Austria [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'The Visual Collider', launch exhibition with Nina Czegledy, Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Cultural Centre Vela Luka, Korcula, Croatia
'Creative Relationships', presentation and launch of UEFA CUP drawing book with Walter Stach, Right on the Rim, Johannesburg
Stach and Neustetter at Right on the Rim,collaborative drawing exhibition, projection and site-specific interventions, Arts on Main, Johannesburg
Public artwork installation of Euro2008 Art and Soccer event paintings at Arts on Main, Johannesburg
Documentation of Parade - a Project for Linz 2009 Kulturhauptstadt Europa by Peter Kuthan, Austria [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'one moment?', Mount Teide, Tenerife (Canary Islands), solo exhibition at Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
The Observatory I. Sculptural sketch for an artist Observatory in Sutherland exhibited on 'Double Body: being in space', at the FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg
Vredefort interventions II, night interventions for Curious Pictures television series: A Country Imagined at the Vredefort Dome meteorite crater
Oudtshoorn Trace, land art drawing with Bronwyn Lace for the 2009 KKNK, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
Everything will not be OK!, internet artwork:  for the show 'Internet Art in the Global South' at the Joburg Art Fair 2009 with Entelect Software
Work in Progress, installation artwork at Galley AOP booth06 Joburg Art Fair 2009
C30, intervention Goethe Institut Stockholm and donated artwork to Goethe Institut Johannesburg in collaboration with David Andrew
On Location, C30 collaborative presentation and interventions with David Andrew in Konstfack, Stockholm, Sweden
Sutherland Reflections, community participation project in collaboration with Bronwyn Lace at South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and Southern African Largest Telescope (SALT) for IYA2009, Sutherland

A Rough-Cut through Alex, experimental documentary and screening event commissioned by the Austrian Embassy in South Africa, Alexandra [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
Vredefort interventions, night interventions and performances, Space Camp project for the NYDT at the Vredefort Dome meteorite crater
Traces, land-art intervention in collaboration with Bronwyn Lace, Nirox Foundation, Cradle of Humankind
Black Out, public intervention project for Travesia at the CAAM, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas, Canary Islands [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
BRT Public Artwork, site-specific artwork for the Twist Street Bus Rapid Transport  Station, Joubert Park  [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
Metro Centre Public Artwork, site-specific installation for the new Metro Centre Visitors' Building, Braamfontein [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
'C30 Artroom meets Klassenraum 1,2,3', collaborative interventions with David Andrew in the Goethe Institute Johannesburg with PJ Simelane High-School, Soweto
Euro2008 Art and Soccer event in collaboration with Walter Stach, The Bassline, Johannesburg
MobileLightDrawing, interactive mobile phone performance for Samsung phone launch, Johannesburg
SOUNDLINES, sound intervention and installation for 'Jozi and the (M)other City' curated by Carine Zaayman. Michaelis Gallery, Cape Town
in two minds, artist book launched at the Johannesburg Art Fair and solo exhibition at AOP Gallery, Johannesburg
'Joeys', in collaboration with Machfeld , KunstMedianLabor Kunsthaus Graz, Austria [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
C30, collaborative interventions in PJ Simelane High-School, Soweto and exhibition at the Sandton Civic Gallery with David Andrew

Up to 2007
'Hillbrow/Dakar/Hillbrow', University of Johannesburg Gallery, The Colour Line Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, Kher Thiossane Media Lab, Dak’Art06 Biennale (Off), Dakar, Senegal [Hobbs/Neustetter]
Still Experimenting Still Playing, site-specific installation, Outlet, Pretoria
Still Experimenting Still Playing, site-specific installation, The Parking Gallery, Johannesburg
Action 1-3, select guerilla artworks, interventions into public platforms around art, technology and third world debates, UNESCO WSIS Prep. Conference, St Petersburg Russia. Austria Millennium Goals program and parliament presentation, Vienna
'Experiment02', site-specific exhibition with Nathaniel Stern at Franchise Gallery, Johannesburg
Creative collaboration The Trinity Session: MODM – Museum Of Dead Media - installation at Design Indaba, ongoing production, Johannesburg [*The Trinity Session], collaborative net art commission for 'Turbulence' with Nathaniel Stern, Johannesburg
'Digital Frottage', experimental production of digital prints through scanning, copying and photographically exposing moving and still image on the laptop, Johannesburg
'Mobile_intervention', installation and flyer campaign and mobile phone picture-message artwork for the 'Makeshift Show', Johannesburg Art Gallery
'MOBILElocalSYSTEMS', installation, flyer campaign and mobile phone picture-message artwork for the Mobilise exhibition at the Digital Hub, Dublin
'Mobile Office': Creative collaboration The Trinity Session - Transmediale.03, Berlin [*The Trinity Session]
Creative collaboration The Trinity Session: Detours R Us, installation artwork for 'Learning From' Neue Geselshaft der Bildenden Kunst, Berlin and Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna [*The Trinity Session]
Creative collaborator with SEARCH and Radiotopia for the Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria and online [*The Trinity Session]
Creative collaboration The Trinity Session: SAFEFOOD II  for the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg and online [*The Trinity Session]
Creative collaboration The Trinity Session: SAFEFOOD for the Turin Biennale, Turin, Johannesburg and online [*The Trinity Session]
Clinical Capsule, multimedia performance collaboration with Jeannette Ginslov and Andre van Rensberg, performed for the Arts Alive International Dance Festival, at the Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg during February and June and at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in July

Curatorial Work

'Something is not quite right...', curated Article Biennale 2010 in public space with Hege Tapio, Stavanger, Norway
Public art programmes, Johannesburg, South Africa  [*The Trinity Session]
Tester, DVD and Book Publication, South African video art, Spain – South Africa  [*The Trinity Session]
Art, Activism and Convergence, Unfold DVD Magazine, TBWA, Johannesburg
Arts Programme for the Red Bull Music Academy, Cape Town [*The Trinity Session]
+27 Sessions, SA contribution to the Translocal Channel, Walker Art Centre  [*The Trinity Session]
Curatorial programme for the 'Art in Big Brother II' SA reality TV show [*The Trinity Session]
'SEARCH', an ELOBBY project for the ARS Electronica Festival 2002 [*The Trinity Session]
'Radiotopia', South Africa Sessions, ARS Electronica Festival 2002 [*The Trinity Session]
'Online | offline exhibition: digital identity and aesthetics on and off the web', WWW Conference, RAU University [*_sanman]
'SWITCH ON/OFF', New Media Art Exhibition at the Oudtshoorn Festival in April [*sanman]
Co-curator of the MTN Digital/ Electronic Art Exhibition, Gertrude Posel Gallery, Johannesburg

Ventures Initiated/ Developed

Public Art Programmes for Hillbrow Berea Yeoville, Johannesburg, Tswane, Soweto, Evaton [*The Trinity Session]
UNESCO Digi-Arts Africa: research and implementation of strategic plan [*The Trinity Session]
Isea2004 Africa Network Meeting, coordination and facilitation, Helsinki, Finland [*The Trinity Session]
The | PREMISES, Gallery in Johannesburg [*The Trinity Session]  
Sandton Central Public Art Programme  [*The Trinity Session]  
Cultural Arc Public Art programme and university courses on Spatial Practice  [*The Trinity Session]
Regeneration, inner city artists' magazine, developmental project  [*The Trinity Session]
+++, Visual Art component for the CICI Creative Inner City Initiative, urban regeneration through creative industries in partnership with JPP [*The Trinity Session]
_sanman (Southern African New Media Art Network)


Project Evaluator: MDG Projects 2004/5, Austrian Development Agency, workshops and reports, Vienna
Prix 2004/5/6, Ars Electronica jury advisor member, Linz, Austria
Isea2004 UNESCO Prize Jury member, Helsinki, Finland
Foundation, Langloise, invited consultant to Africa programme, Montreal, Canada Forum at, Spain, node
UNESCO DIGIARTS PROJECT, Virtual Library Sub Portal, member of the Advisory Committee
Leonardo Electronic Almanac ( LEA/) corresponding Editor

Presentations / Conferences / Symposia / Publications

'Water from Space; Art as powerful bridge between fantasy and fact', presentation in collaboration with Nina Czegledy at the Water from Space Session at International Astronautical Congress (IAC) Prague
Public Art presentation for the ArchitectureZA2010, Johannesburg
'Moments of Inspiration and Playful Interventions', presentation at TEDx Johannesburg 2009
'Analogue and Digital Anecdotes and Artworks from South Africa', Third Text: Volume 23 Issue 3 2009
'The Observatory in the making', presentation at 'On Making: Integrating Approaches to Practice-Led Research in Art and Design', University of Johannesburg
Guest Artist presentation at Stiftelsen 3,14 Gallery in cooperation with BEK, Maur Prosjekter/Maia Urstad in Bergen and at the Tromso Art Academy, Norway
Discussion participant on 'Device Art' at organized by Nina Czegledy, Budapest, Hungary
'Shaping public space through creative interventions', International seminar for creative industries 2009, Klaipeda, Lithuania
'New territories and cultures of the digital', Conference on 'Positions in flux: On the changing role of the artist and the institution,  Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam
'On Location', C30 collaborative presentation and interventions with David Andrew in Konstfack, Stockholm, Sweden
Arco06, International art Experts Forum: Directions on Digital Art: Expert, Madrid
Sessions eKapa, International Art Meeting, Cap Town
UNESCO Digiarts AFRICA at ARS Electronica 2006, convener and participant, Linz
World Summit Contributory Conference on ICT and Creativity, 2-3 June. Vienna, Austria
'UNESCO between two phases of the World Summit on the information Society'. St. Petersburg, Russia Workshop, 2 weeks: alternative uses of digital skills, Vega School of Brand Communication, Johannesburg
'Play with Tech', 3 day UNESCO Children’s workshop at Isea2004, Helsinki, Finland
'Creative mobile action', presentation at the Vodacom Mobile Live Conference, Sandton
Visiting lecturer, Master Students ISNM International School of New Media, Luebeck, Germany
Net Art Lectures at the University of the Witwatersrand, Digital Art, Johannesburg
Symposia Presentations at the ARS Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria [*The Trinity Session]
Diamond 2002 conference on art and business, Aarhus, Denmark [*The Trinity Session]
SYSTEMSIMPERFECT, invited speaker for the New Media Underground Festival, Cape Town
Discussant: 'New Media Art in South Africa', Total Global, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Basel, Switzerland


Ampersand Foundation, New York, USA
The Banff Centre for the Liminal Screens program as peer advisor, Banff, Canada
USF Residency, Bergen, Norway
For Sutherland Reflections, hosted by South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and Southern African Largest Telescope (SALT) for IYA2009, Sutherland, South Africa
Collaboration with Machfeld, KunstMedienLabor Kunsthaus Graz, Austria [*Hobbs/Neustetter]
Station Mir, Normandy France [*The Trinity Session]
Kunstraum, Linz Austria [*The Trinity Session]
Invited Visiting Artist to the Recontres Video Art Plastique, Normandy, France. [*The Trinity Session]
Website Residency Programme with CCASA and Sussuta Boe in Brussels, Belgium

Research areas

Arts, Science and Technology and everyday innovation
Digital Art in Africa  [*The Trinity Session]
Artministration, the art or administration and business development in the visual arts industry in South Africa [*The Trinity Session]
Spatial Practice / Public Art  [*The Trinity Session]
Research on the visual arts and crafts industries in the SADC region (ILO) [*The Trinity Session]
New media art and business in South Africa [*_sanman]
The Potential and Limitations of Web Art - A South African Perspective (MAFA)