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Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU’s bevy of spring exhibitions run the gamut

An international group exhibition studying abstraction and a monumental new public artwork by Navine G. Dossos for ICA’s iconic facade kick off the 2023 spring season

Trevor Dickerson



The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) has announced its Spring 2023 season, featuring a group exhibition and corresponding public art installation, both organized by ICA Senior Curator and Director of Programs, Sarah Rifky, as well as hybrid performances as part of the Test Pattern series. Additionally, Misread Unread Read Reread Misread Unread Reread (MURRMUR), an ongoing research framework that opened in Fall 2022 with the self-publishing pavillion by Rafael Domenech, will continue through 2023 with further iterations and programs by artists and educators.

Installed across the ICA’s multiple galleries and spaces, So it appears, runs through July 16, 2023. The exhibition features nineteen artists from around the world whose works appear inscrutable at first glance—but upon closer examination, tangible, acutely urgent narratives begin to emerge. Grappling with the paradox of how to represent the unrepresentable, the collected artists have surfaced abstraction as a visual strategy—a tactic for encoding, encrypting, and indexing otherwise invisible realities and disasters, as well as speculative futures. Formal abstraction, color fields and conceptual minimalism act as repositories for stories of carcerality, injustice, enslavement, the invisibility of migrants, environmental racism, and sonic warfare, among other realities.

Though created at different times (from 2004 to the present) and in vastly disparate contexts across fourteen different countries, the works presented in So it appears reveal surprising affinities in their approaches, subtleties and associations. Seen together, they invite visitors to reflect on the interconnectedness of the manifold global crises.

Featured artists include Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Monira Al Qadiri, Alexander Apóstol, Navine G. Dossos, Torkwase Dyson, Basmah Felemban, Žilvinas Kempinas, Agnieszka Kurant, Dinh Q. Lê, Jeewi Lee, John Menick, Novo (Reynier Leyva Novo), Trevor Paglen, Walid Raad, Tomás Saraceno, Pak Sheung-Chuen, and Levester Williams. Tasmania-based artist Tricky Walsh and New York–based audio artist and producer Sharon Mashihi will also be in residence throughout the exhibition’s run and will produce new works to be presented on April 21st on the occasion of the ICA’s fifth anniversary.

Concurrently, artist Navine G. Dossos will present a public work, McLean (2023), on ICA at VCU’s iconic N. Belvidere facade, on view for one year, February 24, 2023 – January 7, 2024. For this visually spectacular work, the artist adapted one hundred gouache paintings she created between 2018 and 2020, each panel in response to a news article published in the wake of the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—a resident of McLean, Virginia—in October 2019.

Through this series, Dossos has developed a lexicon of symbols that stand in for the absent picturing of the case. The work is rendered in Dossos’ double take on Islamic and geometric arts, yet instead of lines and shapes, Dossos composes her intricate work through graphic icons, a representation of the narrative thread, encompassing multiple forms of technology, different individuals, nation-states, law enforcement agencies and human rights organizations. McLean is developed from Dossos’ project No Such Organization (2020) and which will be shown as part of So it appears.

Continuing from the 2022 Fall season is Misread Unread Read Re-read Misread Unread Re-read (MURRMUR), a ten-month curatorial framework and publishing program committed to expanding how we think about exhibitions and what it means to read, publish and distribute art, books and ideas. Developed in conversation with participating artists and educators, MURRMUR seeks to break down, massage, map and circulate information through experiments, improvisations and alternative curriculums. MURRMUR is organized by Senior Curator and Director of Programs, Sarah Rifky, and Assistant Curator of Commerce and Publications, Egbert Vongmalaithong.

MURRMUR presents two new programs in April 2023 and one new installation of research, references and a materials library designed by Sam Taylor in February 2023, organized by Egbert Vongmalaithong, ICA Assistant Curator of Commerce and Publications. On view February 24–July 16, 2023, in the ICA Shop + Cafe, Taylor’s installation provides objects that can be activated with a tap of your phone to reveal media and texts, providing insight on MURRMUR and the upcoming iterations.

One of the new programs is between a book and a soft place, a new commission by new media artist and design educator nicole killian. Designed as a playful learning environment, visitors are invited into this play-space to consider various ways for language to be carried out, embodied, and “queered”: we wear the language, we dance the language and we hold it in our hands. An intervention on the ICA’s 2nd floor, between a book and a soft place, can be considered a study on killian’s research questions around queering design education.

MURRMUR also presents SIT(UATION), a mutable seating and display system by artist Riley Hooker in collaboration with architect Nick Meehan. The project grows from a desire to center the body in the act of reading and the structure can be understood as plasmatic—resisting fixed linearity and promoting intellectual promiscuity. The design pulls from 1960s radical architecture, post-modern seating design a-la Peter Opsvik and Terje Ekstrøm, educational methods developed for neurodivergent students, embodiment and mindfulness practices, and anarchic political theories. The research and process behind these programs will be presented in February 2023 and on view from April 21–July 16, 2023.

In September 2022, MURRMUR opened with The Medium is the Massage, a new commission by artist Rafael Domenech. Visitors to The Medium is the Massage can become authors, readers, editors, and publishers when they enter this continuously transforming publication-pavilion. The living space turns the art gallery from a site of passive reception into a site of active production, right up until it closes on July 16, 2023, when the public will be invited to take the project’s remains out of the gallery and into their homes.


Curated by ICA Assistant Curator and Producer David Riley, Test Pattern is a hybrid performance series inspired by the legacy of visionary public-access TV programs and alternative video movements in the US. The series invites artists to turn the ICA auditorium into an experimental production studio for week-long residencies, during which they collaborate with members of the local community to create a live performance and internet broadcast. Launched in March 2022, past Test Pattern performers include DeForrest Brown Jr., madison moore, SHAWNÉ MICHAELAIN HOLLOWAY, Moor Mother, jaamil olawale kosoko, Kinlaw and Dorian Wood.

Test Pattern returns to the ICA auditorium on Friday, April 7, with a performance by vocalist, composer, and performance artist Holland Andrews. Their work focuses on the abstraction of operatic and extended-technique voice to build cathartic and dissonant soundscapes. Andrews arranges music for voice, clarinet and electronics and frequently highlights themes surrounding vulnerability and healing. In addition to creating solo work, Andrews develops and performs soundscapes for dance, theater and film. Their work has toured nationally and internationally with artists such as Bill T. Jones, Dorothee Munyaneza, Will Rawls and poet Demian Dinéyazhi.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.