Nolan Oswald Dennis: conditions | Goodman Johannesburg Gallery


The Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Conditions, the third solo exhibition of Nolan Oswald Dennis with the Goodman Gallery.

The exhibition presents a new series of works centered around the figure of the globe. Incorporating form in various configurations, Dennis presents different perspectives on our familiar world as a way to imagine new possibilities.

“Within this burning planet has always existed another world, and the struggle to achieve it,” says Dennis. “The logic of colonial cosmology insists on the universality of the Western world: a planet rendered as private property, as social violence, as a deliberate crisis. Other worlds occupy the same space and the same time as the colonial planet. A planet made whole as native land and life; a queer planet made just, feminist, socialist; a planet facing south, east and water. All in all, an ecology of black planets – a black cosmography (where black is a vector that opens up to hidden conditions of space and time).

The spherical globe is the idealized figure of the planet in Western cosmology: homogeneous, smooth, unitary and knowable. Against this image of the world, Dennis proposes a series of transformations of the sphere, distorting and stretching the model in order to find space for other worlds, other worldly possibilities.

In reality, the geometry of the globe is a more imperfect spheroidal shape. By moving away from the dominant Platonic sphere by disregarding the classic colonial image of the globe, we come closer “to the shape of the real planet,” explains Dennis. “That is to say the planet as a complex topological figure which emerges and merges with the world it prefigures. Our task has always been to complicate this figure, to configure the planet so that it can contain other worlds. “

A number of abstract globes included in the exhibit help articulate this position. These sculptural models are part of a series called “A Black Cosmography”, which refers to popular culture planetary images, in particular the album “Fear of a Black Planet” by Public Enemy (1990) and the album The Brother Moves On, “A New Myth”. (2013). In addition, the globes are based on the dark matter hypothesis in the Standard Model of particle physics as well as on the multiverse theory in cosmology.

Dennis takes a systems-based approach to designing new models to envision the planet and the world it contains. For the conditions, Dennis bases this on a new model of earth system called the dewlap garden. The work – an extension of the ongoing “A Program for Mud” research project started in 2017 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – examines soil as a complex model of social and political life on this planet. This is achieved using a biotechnical device that transforms texts from the Black Liberation Archives into soil in collaboration with a community of earthworms eisnia foetida.

Throughout the exposure, the worms will consume the cellulose fiber from the books, turning it into flesh, energy, heat and worm droppings that fertilize the soil. In doing so, the work acts as a gesture of “sharing knowledge with the soil, the worms and the earth itself, put[ting] to put in place conditions of possibility in which an enlarged collective can see the world differently.

As with any system, a series of protocols are essential to manage this work. Along with maintaining a constant temperature and light frequency, a set of “care protocols” must be put in place. These will take the form of a series of readings, where invited participants will be invited to recite excerpts from texts used in the work, to the verses as well as to a small group of people. A series of new drawings and diagrams are presented as annotations to these models and systems.

Learn more about the artist

Nolan Oswald Dennis (born 1988, Zambia) is an interdisciplinary artist from Johannesburg, South Africa. His practice explores what he calls “a black consciousness of space”: the material and metaphysical conditions of decolonization. Born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in Midrand, South Africa. He holds a BA in Architecture from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and an MSc in Art, Culture and Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dennis’ work questions the politics of space and time through a system-specific rather than site-specific approach. He is interested in the hidden structures that predetermine the limits of our social and political imagination. Through a language of diagrams, drawings and models, he explores a hidden landscape of systematic and structural conditions that organize our political subsoil. This subspace is framed by systems that cut across multiple domains (technical, spiritual, economic, psychological, etc.) and Dennis’ work can therefore be seen as an attempt to bring these systems together, sometimes opposing, sometimes complementary. Reading technological systems alongside spiritual systems, combining political fictions with science fiction.

Dennis’ is the 2016 winner of the FNB Arts Prize and has exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions, including the 9th Berlin Biennale (2016), the Young Congo Biennale (2019), the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Architekturmuseum der TU München, among others. He participates in upcoming exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Lieu Unique (Nantes) and Goodman Gallery, and is artist in residence 2020 at NTUCCA (Singapore).

Dennis will be the next Artist in Residence at the Delfina Foundation, London from September 2021.


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