Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Dark Imaginarence
“For them, as for me, imagining is not merely looking or looking at; nor is it
taking oneself intact into the other. It is, for the purposes of the work, becoming.”
The University Museum is pleased to present Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Dark Imaginarence, Nathaniel Donnett’s solo exhibition at Texas Southern University. The artist’s multimedia works consider how people navigate space and time through nonlinear trajectories and ask how abstraction reflects our realities while offering multiple ways to perceive them. Donnett examines the role imagination plays in contending with obstacles in our lives that manifest as systemic limitations and constitute nuanced moments of discovery.
The exhibition takes inspiration from the life of Ed Dwight, an ex-Navy pilot who almost became the first Black astronaut to enter outer space but was denied because of sociopolitical interference and racial hostility. He later reimagined himself and became a sculptor. Following that path, Donnett’s works—textiles, sculpture, installation, sound, video, and, importantly, community engagement in the form of a backpack exchange with students from historic Black neighborhoods in Houston (Third Ward, Sunnyside, Acres Homes, Fifth Ward)—combine the unknown and the embodied to search out Black cosmologies and material constellations that act as poetics, prompts, processes, and presentations for lived transformation.
Donnett approaches his practice through the lens of Dark Imaginarence, a concept of art, everyday aesthetic theory, and notion(s) of Blackness. The exhibition also reflects on theories concerned with fugitivity, spatial understanding, and becoming: Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, which describes the house as a shelter and universe allowing for dreaming and protection; Fred Moten’s notion of enclosure, a psychological entrapment caused by social precarity; and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias, an engagement with the plurality of space and time.
For example, the centerpiece of the exhibition, Staring at infinity through the corners of asymmetry (2023), uses reclaimed materials to recreate a geometric form shotgun house that references histories embedded within architecture, and expansive galactic dreams.
Donnett’s process is as much philosophical as it is musical—and concerned with how everyday actions and common materials hold memories and serve as witnesses to
lived experiences. His recent works investigate tensions between the rational and the irrational as a route for accessing generative ways of moving, thinking, and living hidden within our subconscious that might help us reframe and redefine ourselves—and negotiate life’s constraints. Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Dark Imaginarence asks: What could happen if we changed our questions from “What is the sum of two plus two?” to “What is the sum of two plus a spaceship, divided by Earth, Wind & Fire’s song’ Devotion,’ multiplied by the first half of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris?”
This project is supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance, and the University Museum at Texas Southern University.
Nathaniel Donnett was born in Houston, Texas. Donnett received his B.A. in Fine Arts from Texas Southern University, and his MFA from Yale University School of Art. Nathaniel received the 2024 American Academy of Rome Affiliated Fellowship, a 2022 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2022 Houston Arts Alliance Individual Artist Grant, a Dean’s Critical Practice Research Grant from Yale, and an Art and Social Justice Initiative Grant from Yale (2020), among others.
His work has been exhibited nationally at The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA; the Mennello Museum, Orlando, FL; the Ulrich Museum, Wichita, KS; Project Row Houses, Houston, TX, The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA, The American Museum, Washington D.C., The University Museum, Houston, TX, The Kemper Contemporary Arts Museum, Kansas City, MO, The Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury CT, The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX, and The New Museum, New York, NY.