Nolan Oswald Dennis


[on misrecognition and other irrelative things]


A blurred, abstracted and pixellated image. A still taken from a gif which constantly transforms between artworks

Nolan Oswald Dennis, still from GIF, 'irrelation'


[Or how something can be itself and something else altogether]

< a short history of all things >  Especially black,  indigenous,  and queer things, 

could be improperly, generatively (mis)understood as a history of being which oscillates between beings being themselves and being something else all at the same time. There is a relational symmetry between what something (or someone) is and what it is (or we are) not.

This history points to simultaneity + multiplicity in the material and immaterial qualities in any given thing. It is not a history of trans-formation in which things become something else but a trans-formation in which things already are something else. Things are what we (mis)recognise and what we do not recognise them to be at the same time. A history which unfolds from this pluriquality of being reveals the concurrence of multiple, sometimes inconsistent, sometimes incongruent, always radical, qualities in any thing. 

A blurred, pixellated image which depicts multiple abstract forms blurring into each other

Nolan Oswald Dennis, still from GIF, 'irrelation'


When this pluriquality is imposed from outside social relations (which include human and nonhuman social agents) it is historically expressed through the violence of colonial misrecognition. This imposition reflects the old + ongoing project of weaponizing misidentification. 

Here my appearance indicates precisely  what I am not .

For example: property, object, sub-human, superhuman, human, primitive, advanced, deviant, normative, a thing, no thing etc.

Being, misrecognised from without, is the shadow of enclosure - misrecognition attempts to redefine that which it cannot control in order to violently limit the space of possibility and fix the relationship between:

what I appear as, / \ / \ what I am recognised as,________and what else I might be.

This enclosure is a strategy for securing a stable and coherent normativity which racializes, genders and commodifies all things (human and nonhuman) and renders the planet as property.


When this pluriquality emerges from within social formations (human and nonhuman ways of being together) we enter the secret history of all things. 

This secret history is the inexpressible history of relations beyond the scope of recognition. 

Which is to say in our alter-destiny the property relationship indexed by a fixed correspondence between:

Appearance_ \_ _is misaligned. \_ and recognition_/

We turn our back on recognition and attend instead to the relationship between :

Appearance >----------------------------------------------------------< which is also Presence \ / \_ and Possibility>-----------------------< which is also Transformation _/ \ / \_and Mutation>-------< which is also Materialisation_/

These are co-vertices which trace eccentric orbits of a planet beyond the horizon of recognition. Here, to appear as a (single) thing is no guarantee of any (single) thing.

A blurred, pixellated image which shows multiple abstract forms blurring into one another

Nolan Oswald Dennis, still from GIF "irrelation"


[Or the struggle to be whatever we can]

<to oscillate in this way is to be in a relation of variability> 

Material in is not a  property    but an indication.

Materiality is the partial sum of ongoing interactions affecting each other in more or less unstable ways - a set of shifting relations misrecognised as objects.


When this misrecognition tends towards description and definition it reflects a set of interactions violently intended to reduce 

- t h e s p a c e o f p o s s i b i l i t y- to the space of actuality 

Where the actual privileges the present, which is an expression of power, over the possible, an expression of relation. 

The relation between:  what anything appears to be <----------->and what it actually is

Is in fact a regulated relation, a scene of violent alignment. 

For example, capitalist relations to the planet are mediated primarily through ownership and production. Here the planet is delineated through disciplinary languages of science; and expropriated, excavated and exploited toward maximising the accumulation of capital. All other relations are reduced to leisure and wellness or violently erased. 

The colonial history of the planet is the tragedy of a collective body violently redefined as property and misunderstood as a particular object with properties. The relationality of things is intentionally misrecognised as objective, fixed, irrelative.


When this misrecognition tends towards possibility and interaction it reflects a liberatory potential of transformation. 

That whatever a thing appears to be is only a trivial expression of what it is, or can be. 

Appearance in this case indicates:

<x>a set of interactions which are materialised through anyobject; 

<y>as well as a set of interactions which do not appear in this object; but are nonetheless present, 

<z>as well as a set of interactions which materialise this object entirely differently.

 In this complex indexical landscape: 

Appearance_ \_ are also misaligned         \_ and recognition, _/ 

The point however is to consider what it means to work alongside, rather than against misalignment. So my intentions do not turn to producing “correct” alignments but to expanding the realm of possibility between:

what we appear as, / \ / \ what we are recognised as,________and what else we might be.

Here, relationality demands that we identify as more than any single being, to think of a material community rather a unity. Attending to misrecognition, misunderstanding and misalignment offers us a vocabulary for moving beyond colonial desires for legibility and tactics for rematerializing worlds as interacting rather than collapsing possibilities.  

We are already different.

A blurred, pixellated image which shows multiple abstract forms blurring into one another

Nolan Oswald Dennis, still from GIF "irrelation"

Nolan Oswald Dennis (b. 1988, Zambia) is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. His practice explores the material and metaphysical conditions of decolonization. They hold a Bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and a Masters of Science in Art, Culture and Technology for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dennis’ work questions the politics of space (and time) through a system-specific, rather than site-specific approach. They adopt a language of maps, diagrams, models and other world-ordering devices as strategies for rehearsing possible relations, rather than forms of description. Their practice wilfully (and promiscuously) recombines social, technical, political and spiritual systems through methods grounded in a planetary condition of landlessness and guided by the overlapping theories and practices of black, indigenous and queer liberation.