07.08 - 11.09.2021
The distinction drawn by scholars Jared Sexton, and/with Frank Wilderson III, between the Earth and the World is crucial albeit crudely unattended to. Sexton’s Afro-Pessimist insistence in The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism (2011) that the World must end, not Earth, but the World, is extended by Wilderson when he argues that
There is the ‘real’, which in Lacanian terms is phenomena, and then there is ‘reality’, which is the cut into the real to create a world. I think a lot of people don’t make that distinction. The world is not real even if it feels real.1Aaron Robertson Talks to Frank Wilderson III (2020), ‘The Year Afropessimism Hit the Streets?: A Conversation at the Edge of the World’. Available here.
The placement, or emplotment, of the Black World within and in relation to the World must confront the fact that (1), as Wilderson puts it, “there are no Blacks in the world”,2Wilderson, 2015. ‘Afro-Pessimism and the End of Redemption’. Available here. and, at the risk of taking this too far, there are no Blacks with a World, and (2) the “double bind” (to borrow Saidiya Hartman’s phrasing from Scenes) that places the Black as a sentient being devoid of relationality in and with the World. More essentially, relations within the World are secured, cohered, and guaranteed through the very presence of the Black subject position (I’m italicising to underscore a peculiar subjectivity that is always under erasure); “there is something organic to Black positionality that makes it essential to the destruction of [the World].”3Wilderson, F. 2003. ‘The Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal’. Social Justice, Vol. 30 (pg. 18)
Devoid of capacity for space and time, the Black constitutes the anti-Human because the Black is not simply outside the fold of Human-form and Human World, but constitutes a fundamental threat to the Human in constitutive ways. Because this Human’s site or setting is the World, the Black is therefore positioned not only outside of the World but as fundamentally anti-World.
Putting aside tired and tiring and stale multiculturalist platitudes, putting aside tired and tiring and stale rusty reconciliatory agendas, the Black antagonises the World and is an entity that embodies and signifies displacement and placelessness. Strangely, in contemporary culture, the Black is often declared a contemporary among, or with, contemporaries in the World, which is to say, a degraded subject position imbued with relationality, as opposed to a derelict sentient being. How, when, where, by what means, did this happen?;4In ‘Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms’, Frank Wilderson III puts forward the argument that there is no distinction between Slaveness and Blackness, asking those who might disagree, “How, when, and where did such a split occur?” (2010:11). we are offered no answers worth respecting.
With ‘conditions’, his third solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery, Nolan Oswald Dennis adopts a “systems-based approach” to push or pursue a productive “earth-system model.”5From Goodman Gallery’s press release for ‘conditions’. I’m trying to read this intention with Torkwase Dyson’s disciplined approach, not for their shared liberatory semiotic gestures, but rather for their concern with how we must think and reconceptualise the relation between the geological base structure of the Earth and the operational hydraulics of the World. The epistemicidal integrity of these is vouchsafed by the Black, or at least the extent to which it deals with the subject that is racialised as Black (even as the Black is simultaneously barred from race, while on the other hand giving coherence- personhood, subjectivity, being, community, cosmology, pasts-and-possibilities- to the races in the World).
I’m trying to read Nolan, and/with Torkawase, I’m trying to read the pessimism that sits nervously in their works. To do that, within the scope of this ramble, I’ll briefly draw your attention to the decisions taken in ‘conditions’ to deform and blacken the world (I’m tempted to say ‘their Worlds’ but that would defeat my/Wildersonian earlier assertion-provocation that Blacks have no World/s), not necessarily chromatically, but by other means that enrich how we may think about the structural and paradigmatic positionality of Black people in and in relation to the World, and the catastrophic threat Black people pose to the World’s epistemic order.
Nolan pulls the foundation of the Earth-World apart, distorts, deforms it into a misshapen cartography of eclipsing parts. The artist searches for (by means of enhancing or bringing to the surface) “other worlds” that are positioned relationally to this-World6I’m borrowing this concept from Sylvia Wynter’s ‘1492: A New World View’., and are “occupying the same space and time as the colonial planet.” Through this juxtapositional intervention, Nolan presents to us two (or multiple) competing conceptions of reality, pluralising and democratising ontological presence even as we are not certain whether one ‘reality’ is coming or going, crashing or meteoring towards this-World, or emerging/blossoming into a new form, a new New World.
The spherical has not necessarily lost its corporeal integrity in the hands of the artist; the half-spherical measuring devices deployed to make sense of the spatial and temporal dimensions of this-World must structurally adjust themselves to the shape of the World. The other-Worlds attached or/and emerging from this-World have no measuring devices thrust into them thus locating them beyond time; they stand, precariously, as geological extensions of this-World and epistemically beyond conceptualisation and genealogically isolated. No time, no World.
In ‘conditions’, Nolan’s black cosmographical entanglements, like Torkwase Dyson’s “black compositional thought” (a radical being-black-in-the-world), bring to the visual field the boundaries that mark and separate worlds even as they gesture to expose the parasitic relation and dependency of this-World to other-Worlds. The artist does not translate the World as a concept/reality into a shape other than a sphere because, as Wilderson puts it, “you cannot imagine another world inside of the episteme in which you live.” You can critique this one, yes, with and within its given semiotic systems of cognising. What I’m after (with Nolan), by way of tracing a particular and refreshing impulse internal to this body of work, is invoking and extending Sylvia Wynter’s provocation that “we have to make a new leap”7Greg Thomas. ‘PROUD FLESH Inter/Views: Sylvia Wynter’. PROUDFLESH: A New African Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness: Issue 4, 2006., cut a new reality that we might not even need to call a World.