Can a clew of earthworms feasting on Frantz Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth offer new entry points to thinking about social practices of care? In artist Nolan Oswald Dennis’s installation, garden for fanon, 2021, worms, under the right conditions, will eat books and convert their fiber into fertilizer, effectively making soil.
Garden for fanon is currently on view at A4 Arts Foundation as part of the exhibition, “Customs,” curated by the space’s director, Josh Ginsburg, together with the celebrated architect and designer of the 2020–21 Serpentine Pavilion, Sumayya Vally. The show brings together works by fourteen artists, including Steve McQueen, Igshaan Adams, Frida Orupabo, and Nairy Baghramian. While the roster of contributors is spectacular, the links among their practices are not always clear. For instance, what is the relationship drawn among the photographs of roadside mosques captured in Saudi Arabia by Vally, Binelde Hyrcan’s Cambeck, 2011, a video of four young children playing on a beach in Luanda, and Kapwani Kiwanga’s Vumbi, 2012, a thirty-one minute film in which the artist is seen cleaning copper-dust-laden leaves with a wet cloth?
Oscillating between modes that gesture to fixed social mores and those of demarcations, boundaries, and trade routes, the title “Customs” is slippery at best, suggesting a multitude of possible interpretations. But perhaps this slippage is useful, a reminder of the exhibition format as a weird machine that, under the right conditions, can generate new life.