ICA at VCU opens ‘Kandis Williams: A Field’ on Nov. 6

Through sculpture, video and installation, the exhibition addresses the regimes of control associated with Black labor, including at prison farms in Virginia.

Various leaves.
In “A Field,“ Kandis Williams draws connections between the oppression of Black people in America and the world of nonhuman plant life, and explores the ways in which people, much like the crops they cultivate, can be subject to exploitation and control. (Image courtesy ICA at VCU)

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will present the third iteration of the ICA’s “Provocations” series, “Kandis Williams: A Field,” Nov. 6 through Aug. 2.

The Los Angeles based artist transforms the ICA’s soaring top-floor gallery into a horticultural environment filled with plant sculptures, drawing connections between the oppression of Black people in America and the world of nonhuman plant life. The exhibition explores the ways in which people, much like the crops they cultivate, can be subject to exploitation and control.

The centerpiece of “A Field” is a new video, “Annexation Tango,” produced in Virginia and Los Angeles and supplemented with green-screen videography and found footage. The fields that appear as backgrounds were formerly those of the Lorton Reformatory and the Virginia State Prison Farm, two facilities where incarcerated people were made to work as a condition of their sentences. In aerial footage, several prison facilities appear among plantation-style homes, open fields and pastures, providing an uncanny convergence of past and present architectures of oppression. Superimposed onto this landscape is dancer Roderick George performing a solo tango — a dance and musical form originally introduced to Argentina by Africans brought to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade. The video also incorporates footage from the ongoing California wildfires as a symbol both of the ways people limit their freedom through environmentally destructive activity as well as the urgency of resistance and revolution.

On Nov. 12, the ICA will present “In Discussion: Kandis Williams + Amber Esseiva,” a public Zoom conversation between the artist and ICA Associate Curator Amber Esseiva focused on the research topics explored in “A Field.”

In 2021, the ICA will launch “Public Annotations,” which will engage with Williams’ practice as a researcher and publisher, inviting audiences to lend their voices to the research process through collaborative edits to open-access PDFs that explore topics including sexuality, Blackness and botany.

About the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a noncollecting institution that showcases a fresh slate of changing exhibitions and programs. The ICA is a place to explore new ideas, providing an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and the world. Mirroring the increasing emphasis on cross-disciplinary studies across VCU, the ICA has created a new environment for artists and scholars from around the world to test ideas. As a university-wide resource, the ICA links campus, community, and contemporary artists by supporting local creative communities, engaging an international network of contemporary artists and organizations, and encouraging collaborations with VCU departments, faculty, students and the Richmond community. The ICA is a responsive institution that offers a broad range of artistic perspectives with the goal of questioning assumptions and encouraging critical discourse. For more information on the ICA, please visit icavcu.org.