Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

The London-based artist and designer Es Devlin has unveiled a new interactive sculpture opposite Zeitz MOCAA in the Silo District, V&A Waterfront. The interactive installation Zoetrope was commissioned by Mercedes-Benz South Africa it is open for a full-year and access is free.

The sculpture explores the potential for a future global network of solar-powered pavilions specific to their locations, each one acting as a unique charging station for the mind of the driver.

ART AFRICA was at the opening and Es Devlin shared some interesting thoughts behind the title  of the work, her thinking process and her first job.


Bird's eye view of Es Devlin's sculptural installation ZoetropeBird’s eye view of Es Devlin’s sculptural installation Zoetrope.


ART AFRICA: Why is the Sculpture called Zoetrope?

Es Devlin: ‘Zoe’ means life. ‘Trope’ means turn. Both words are derived from Greek.  Zoetrope is a word used in the 19th century and they were trying to invent film. This was before we knew that films existed. We were a species desperate to create the illusion of moving image. And the way we did it was to create an object that is not dissimilar to this sculpture. We created slats, little tiny apertures inside of it and we put an image of a horse inside in various states of gallop. As the thing turned the horse looked like it was galloping.

The Horse and the automobile is another good connection you make.

Finding new ways of thinking  is about seeing the patterns. It is about tuning out for a minute and looking down with a slightly wider perspective. Artists do that just as much as Scientists and Economists. Economists see patterns in numbers.


Es Devlin, Zoetrope.Es Devlin, Zoetrope.


Are you a good driver?

I don’t really drive, but I do make a very good passenger. I  see the windscreen as a cinema screen. Part of my thinking while working on this project was what if you were to take a walk while charging your car. This is an idea stemming from Japanese local service stations. You could stop for gas and experience local food, local photography, and I thought that’s the ticket!

How do we behave in the most global and caring way to our planet so that when one stops they are forced to turn and care about the specific stop that they are in? This way when we stop we are able to charge our cars and minds at the same time.


Es Devlin, Zoetrope.Es Devlin, Zoetrope.


The turns in the sculpture could also be connected to a car in a winding road.

Exactly, so you are inside the sculpture and there are 12 turns, 12 movies and 12 stops that force you to really be where you are. I also thought to myself what if we you made 12 of these around the world and each moment you stopped you were able to find out as much as you can about where you are.

From horses, to gas cars, and now electric cars, the pace of technology is fast.

One of the first jobs I ever did, when a friend asked if I wanted to be in magazine twenty years ago there was a new phone. They said it takes pictures and I thought how stupid. We don’t need our phones to take pictures. They gave one to David Adjaye the architect and  one to me and there was no social media. So it was 10 of us and at that point none of us got it, but now we are here.


Es Devlin, Zoetrope.Es Devlin, Zoetrope.


This article has been edited for clarity.

Lukho Witbooi is a writer on ART AFRICA‘s editorial team.

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