Nolan Oswald Dennis (SMACT ’18)

Nolan Oswald Dennis, Final Review 2018. Photo: Ostin Zarse
ACT at MIT

Final Review, Spring 2018
Nolan Oswald Dennis

a curriculum for mud:
Composition for Massachusetts (Our Beloved Kin);
Thoreau (the re-enslavement of Anthony Burns);
Discorporate (the Institute in thirds)

For his final project at ACT, Dennis created an experience which explored land, ownership, and knowledge. While reading texts Рnamely historical ones РDennis would rip out the page after he finished it and, using that, begin a composting cycle, through which the worms he was cultivating would turn text into soil. One of the plants in this exhibit was grown just from the soil produced by the worms.

During his review, Dennis described his project as “an apparatus for experimentation in thinking, and for thinking about being here, in Masschusetts, in North America. My presence in this place is very compromised already, in a structure that is itself compromising. Deal with the politics of being at this institution in a colonial context. How we can turn this kind of stuff – the forms of knowledge that are legitimized in this place – and turn them into something more useful, for the kinds of problems that I need to think about, being from South Africa. Over time, they turn paper into worm [excrement], which is soil.

“I’m thinking about mud. Mud kind of really breaks the linear logic that this kind of institute tries to advance, and is a way for me to try and understand the way in which I function, as someone in this context. This is MIT, but the Massachusetts are a people that were systematically murdered, displaced, and dispossessed of their land. This is the thing, that relationship is so slippery that you can say MIT and never think about that. I think its my responsibility to think about that. Me being here is part of how the whole system functions…bringing people from all around the world to contribute and legitimize the space. I don’t have an activist agenda, but I do have a certain self awareness. This whole thing is me trying to be self aware, to discover what it means to be self aware. And you can find that through texts, through books – these books that purport a certain kind of self awareness¬† – but that awareness is not enough because you’re dealing with a real thing, real land, real place.”