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An investigative ‘MURRMUR’ into art and publishing resounds in the ICA at VCU
Misread Unread Read Re-read Misread Unread Re-read (MURRMUR) at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University
Image: Photo by David Hunter Hale, Courtesy of The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU

An investigative ‘MURRMUR’ into art and publishing resounds in the ICA at VCU

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University presents new programs and design commissions that partake in the ten-month curatorial programme.

by Anushka Sharma
Published on : Jul 05, 2023

Learning is rarely a linear journey. The process of reading, for instance, traces a rather haphazard route, encompassing unintentional detours of misreading, re-reading, or not comprehending what one is reading at all, contradicting its popular interpretation of having an undeviating graph. The experience is not one where we passively imbibe knowledge as it comes our way, but one where we actively explore and understand, even if that entails backtracking or changing course entirely. If the act itself refuses to abide by a straight path, shouldn’t its environment make room for erratic, surprising progressions?

Misread Unread Read Re-read Misread Unread Re-read (MURRMUR) is a 10-month long curatorial and publishing programme that aims to broaden common perspectives surrounding exhibitions, reading, publishing, and distributing art, books, and ideas. The series is organised by Sarah Rifky, senior curator and director of programs, and Egbert Vongmalaithong, assistant curator of commerce and publications. Running at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) in the United States from February 24 - July 16, 2023, the exhibition series develops a research framework in collaboration with participating artists and educators. As a result of a thriving discourse, MURRMUR reimagines traditional forms of education as collective, self-publishing spaces where reading unfolds as a non-linear act. ICA announces two new programmes by artists Nicole Killian and Riley Hooker and a design commission by Sam Taylor that will adorn the exhibition space.

MURRMUR coveys that the act of reading—misreading, unreading, re-reading and so on—is an active experience wherein our understanding constantly evolves. The title also evokes the faint ‘murmur,’ or perhaps even a flock of starlings or a ‘murmuration’ that creates mesmerising formations in the sky. Artists invited to partake in the design exhibition contrive models that disassemble and disperse knowledge authorship. The forms of a book become the reference point which is then magnified in space to fabricate an experimental learning environment that features a repository of prototypes, projects, publications, and presentations by contemporary artists, designers, writers, poets, and publishers.

Between a book and a soft place is a commission by new media artist and design educator based in Richmond, Nicole Killian. Her practice vacillates between digital and analogue modes for testing publishing projects. Conceived as a playful learning milieu, between a book and a soft place invites visitors to consider the different methods for language to be carried out, epitomised and ‘queered’: we wear the language, we dance the language and we hold it in our hands. Taking the stage on the ICA’s second floor, between a book and a soft place, extends on Killian's questions around queering design education: “How can we understand designers as bodies in space, with agency, instead of simply ‘creatives’? And how can we understand bodies of text as living things that produce difficult conversations, instead of simply ‘content’?” The viewers are welcomed to inhabit the design installation and retort to the investigation while leaving behind remnants of their presence over time.

MURRMUR also presents a vibrant installation by interdisciplinary artist based in New York Riley Hooker in cahoots with architect Nick Meehan: SIT(UATION). The mutable seating stems from an effort and longing to centre the body in the act of reading. The meandering silhouette can be deemed plasmatic—defying linearity and encouraging intellectual diversions. The immersive installation takes cues from 1960s radical architecture, post-modern seating design by Peter Opsvik and Terje Ekstrøm, educational methods catering to neurodivergent students, mindfulness practices and anarchic political theories.

The research and process that bolster between a book and a soft place and SIT(UATION) are presented alongside an installation of research, references and a materials library designed by product strategist and designer Sam Taylor, on view in the ICA Shop + Cafe. Taylor’s installation offers to the audience objects that can be activated with a tap of their phones to access insightful media and texts about MURRMUR and its upcoming editions.

An inquisition through creativity, MURRMUR was inaugurated in September 2022 with a commission by artist Rafael Domenech titled The Medium is the Massage. Print media has for long piqued the artist’s interest as a methodology for contemplating the work of art—its production and reception. In the case of The Medium is the Massage, Domenech starts the process by dispensing with the term ‘exhibition’ entirely. The show is rather referred to as an ‘art book,’ featuring a modular pavilion that doubles as a vehicle for the visitors to self-publish through printing and book-binding resources and participate in collective reading, performance, writing and study. Consequently, the audiences become authors, readers, editors and publishers upon entering the ever-transforming modular design. The living space morphs the art gallery into a hub of active production. Once the curtains of the exhibition drop on July 16, 2023, the public will be offered the opportunity to carry the project’s remains to their homes.

‘Misread Unread Read Re-read Misread Unread Re-read’ (MURRMUR) will remain on view from February 24 to July 16, 2023, at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia, United States.

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