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March 1, 2014
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Institute of Contemporary Art - Ruffneck Constructivists
by Mary Anna Rodabaugh

Snyderman-Works Galleries Purposely jagged around the edges, the Institute of Contemporary Art exhibit, Ruffneck Constructivists, generates an unsettling atmosphere that will leave you trying to pinpoint why you feel so unnerved.

It could be the ominous rumblings coming from Kahlil Joseph and Arthur Jafa’s films, which play on loop in a small cubicle theatre at the center of the exhibit. Or perhaps Deana Lawson’s 49 “prison picture day” photos of a woman, child, and incarcerated boyfriend may have struck a nerve. Most likely, a feeling of perturbation arose after learning that the 688 little circles on the orange and white canvas of William Pope’s piece were actually slices of bologna nailed to the wall, with a portrait of a “purported Jewish person” glued to the center of each dripping and “weeping” slice.

Curated by Kara Walker, Ruffneck Constructivists is a group exhibit featuring eleven international artists, all highlighting aspects of black society and urbanism in a contemporary form. The exhibit features works from all mediums, including film, photography, and sculpture. Considered a manifesto of sorts, the exhibit combines urban architecture and hip-hop culture to produce an eclectic atmosphere.

Interpretation will vary from piece to piece, as the artists’ intentions are rarely clearly defined. However, Tim Portlock’s piece, Sunrise, encapsulates drug culture, desolation, and the resulting structural decay in a sad yet beautiful manner. His 72-by-54-inch archival pigment print depicts the sun rising on a dirty, lonely, rundown neighborhood.

South African native Dineo Seshee Bopape brings a unique element to his three-dimensional structure: sound. In But That is Not the Important Part of the Story, Bopape uses oscillating fans to blow pieces of cloth tied to several wooden stands. The fans’ clicking sounds conjure up the image of a very small and stuffy room during a tortuously hot summer. Bopape projects video footage of fire onto a piece of white silk cloth. Video screens mounted to the wooden stands play the same projected flame loop. This visual clue solidifies the hot and stuffy apartment concept. The piece transports you to a new space.

Ruffneck Constructivists is raw, abrasive, and at times shocking. It is intentionally incohesive. You will leave with more questions than answers. Despite this, the exhibit is highly effective in generating an unsettling emotional response, which is worth it for that reason alone.

Ruffneck Constructivists is on display at the Institute for Contemporary Art on 118 South 36th Street until August 17th. Admission is free.