Contemporary artists envision identity, purpose in new ICA galleries

A 1966 photo shoot from Billy Ray inspires much of “Give It or Leave It.” Cauleen Smith used this image to depict an important moment in black history. Photo by Jon Mirador.

Andrew Ringle, Spectrum Editor

The Institute for Contemporary Art opened a pair of exhibitions Saturday featuring artists Cauleen Smith, Irena Haiduk and Martine Syms, who address themes of identity, history and modernization.

In efforts to reimagine the gallery space, Smith uses film, video and sculpture in “Give It or Leave It.” Colorful film gels cover glass and filter sunlight into the colors of a rainbow.

“What you’re invited to contemplate while you sit in here for a while is the fact that the Earth is rotating around the sun,” Smith said. “And the gel-colored light lets you see that happen in a way that you can’t really be aware of unless there’s something marking the time, like a sundial.”

Two of Smith’s films explore African-American history and current events.

On the second floor of the ICA, Syms examines Western economies and industry in “Tableau Economique,” while Haiduk questions the media’s representation of black people in “Shame Space.”

Shoes and clothing can be purchased from Yugoexport, the full-fledged apparel business that operates out of “Tableau Economique.”

What the shoe does is further this architecture of labor,” Haiduk said. “It’s a clock. When you put it on, you work. When you put it off, you don’t work … We really wanted to think about the right to leisure.”

In “Shame Space,” a phone number flashes on a screen between videos. Via text message, visitors can interact with the narrator who asks complex questions about body dysmorphia and the cultivation of joy.

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