A Night at the ICA

The Institute of Contemporary Art is a strange place. Located on Penn’s campus near King’s Court English House and the Penn Bookstore, the building doesn’t look much during daytime but when it comes to launching a new exhibition they do not hesitate to bring out the heavy artillery. Spotlights, up-and-coming star DJ, free food, free drinks and works and performances by artist Jacolby Satterwhite, writer Andrew Durbin, and music producer Nick Weiss.

February 17 was a night to die for compared to the calm and poised atmosphere the gallery usually inspires. Yet, as an ordinary mortal, a feeling of uneasiness and confusion didn’t take long to overwhelm me. I felt like a sheep among the wolves. The others seemed to understand what was happening on this big animated screen and this huge canvas smeared with paint. When Andrew Durbin performed some of his texts in front of a video of naked, animated men in hoods chopping wood and blowing bubbles into pipes, they looked genuinely fascinated. On the canvas, where I only saw trees, they probably saw the faint characteristic brush strokes of a tortured artist struggling with demons beyond the comprehension of mere mortals like myself.

Rodney McMillian: The Black Show, 2016. Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.

Some of them were actually gushing over what looked like a pair of cancerous lungs — or cancerous testicles, depending on how close you look at it.

Rodney McMillian: The Black Show, 2016. Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.

But, I knew I was not alone. I recognized others who shared my confusion in this unknown and inhospitable environment. They could be easily spotted taking refuge at the buffet. I didn’t talk to them for fear of being spotted by a group of fine arts students taking a quick break by the bowl of popcorn. So, I turned my camera to film the screen showing men in leather clothes, nodded my head in understanding for a few more minutes, and then slowly made my way to the exit.

Rodney McMillian: The Black Show, 2016. Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.