SWARM, the kaleidoscopic visions of artist and filmmaker Terrence Nance at the Institute for Contemporary Art
By Alex Smith for theartblog
May 12, 2023
That SWARM lands comfortably in the heart of Philadelphia–an incubator for Black futurism and Afro-didactic, exploratory Black artists, is no miracle, but instead an expected drop-in, a city welcoming a kindred spirit. With SWARM though, the artist and filmmaker Terrence Nance focuses his kaleidoscopic visions on creating space to explore Black and African diasporic love–particularly vis-à-vis intimate relationships. It’s work that aims to charm film buffs with its cinematic excursions (parts of Nance’s film An Over Simplification of Her Beauty appear here) and surreal enough to placate your local Afrofuturist.
The five pieces on display at the Institute for Contemporary Art activate the senses with non-linear storytelling, a sense of the surreal, and deliberate pacing. Each work is delightfully enigmatic, yet gently restrained–the films don’t explode into chaos like the work of Michel Gondry, nor do they bury themselves in politic polemics and abstract cyber-horror tropes like Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s Neptune Frost. Nance’s vision of the surreal, especially for Black people, is his own, choosing to center his narrative on interpersonal relationships that explore the mysteries of the heart. Nance can get political, certainly—his HBO series Random Acts of Flyness explored the harsher realities of Black life–poverty, post-colonial existence, police brutality, erasure-with an “In Living Color/SNL on hallucinogens,” rapid-fire editing fervor. In SWARM it’s the piece Swimming in Your Skin Again that delves furthest into a political theme. Featuring his brother Nelson Mandela-Nance–a fantastic, abstract RnB and electronic musician–Swimming is a beautiful examination of worship, spirituality and nature, concepts that have been criminalized, re-appropriated, denied, and then re-contextualized in Black life since slavery. Filmed in the swampier parts of Florida, Swimming weaves moments of praise, of ritual contemplation, nature enhanced mischief-making and Nelson’s impassioned dancing and understated acting to create a transformative meditation.
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