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Liberating Ideas: Art as weapon of choice

03 May 2016 - 09:31 By Sean O'Toole

In July 1971, the outlawed SA Communist Party published a bulletin, Inkululeko-Freedom, to coincide with the organisation's 50th anniversary.The primitive-looking "underground journal" featured a hand-written masthead and an all-caps headline on its front page: "A paper is a weapon," read the latter.There is more than idealism contained in this statement, which Johannesburg artist Nolan Dennis quotes in a new wall drawing on show at his debut solo exhibition Furthermore.YouTube has many tutorials on making weapons (knives, guns, bows and arrows) using only paper.But Dennis's questioning exhibition, which also includes ink drawings of abstracted landscapes, sculptures and a video describing the protocols surrounding the national flag, is not about military insurrection.SUPPLIEDIf anything, his exhibition is about "liberating ideas" - a phrase culled from the 1971 SACP communiqué. It's also a compelling distillation of his youthful anger, appropriately expressed in the strident language of black consciousness."You sold us a dream," reads another hand-written statement in silver ink from the artist's sprawling and untitled drawing installation. "We are here for our refund."Dennis's drawing also includes seven ink renderings of obelisk forms, bits of tinfoil and historical maps describing migration in Southern Africa tacked directly to the wall, as well as free-floating constructivist ink lines. These abstract geometrical markings recall the revolutionary-era Russian artist El Lissitzky who, like Dennis, also studied architecture but dabbled in whatever medium caught his attention.Dennis has produced album art for the musical outfit The Brother Moves On. He has also experimented with various forms of writing.SUPPLIEDThree years ago, Dennis created a 300000-word wall drawing that examined five centuries of South African land conflict. Titled Constant Transition: Memorial Landscape and part of the multi-media exhibition, it took Dennis four days to complete the flowing, undulating drawing.I was reminded of this politically charged wall drawing while looking at Dale Lawrence's lino prints, currently on view at Smith, also in Cape Town.Lawrence, who studied graphic design, is interested in labour and the "dubious luxury" of time enjoyed by artists. His debut solo, Look Busy, includes lots of evidence of labour.His abstract linocut and painted compositions, all in black ink, recall early Zander Blom and Paul Edmunds.Like Dennis, Lawrence is also interested in words as a kind of art. His silk-screen work Guidance Councillor lists various professions. The juxtapositions are telling. After portrait painter comes toilet cleaner.Furthermore is at Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, until May 18; Look Busy is at Smith, Cape Town, until May 7..

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