Terence Nance brings immersive art to Swarm exhibition

Terence Nance, Swimming In Your Skin Again (still), 2015.
Courtesy of Terence Nance

Multi-disciplinary artist Terrence Nance is legendary for his inventively genre-jumbling experiments in video, film, television, sound, music and performance art. The immersive, innovative, interdisciplinary artist touches on the inspiration of his environments, heritage and ancestry in his colorful catalog of filmic work, as well as having created the freeform ‘Random Acts of Flyness‘ program for HBO.

Terence Nance and Maori Karmael Holmes attend the 2018 premiere of ‘Random Acts of Flyness’ at the BlackStar Film Festival.Daniel Jackson

“Without sounding too cliché, Terence is a disruptor,” said Maori Karmael Holmes, who—as founder and curator of Philly’s BlackStar Film Festival—hosted 2018’s premiere of ‘Random Acts of Flyness’. “Terence has a unique vision as an artist that spreads out into his engagement with the commercial world and into the communities which he inhabits.”

Nance’s first solo exhibition, Swarm—a 10-year retrospective of film, video and immersive environments—opens March 10 at West Philly’s Institute of Contemporary Arts with additional film screenings on March 16 and 17 at Penn Live Arts. Holmes again acts as organizer and curator to Nance’s work.

“He has been able to make work both in Hollywood and outside of it and always maintaining a vision of himself and bringing his community — or the Swarm — along with him,” says Holmes. “The name of the Swarm exhibition refers to his broader community, and I think once people see the works in the show, they will understand its significance.”

“I was surprised that Terence hadn’t had a solo show yet, and then I became obsessed with getting to do it before the idea was scooped,” added Holmes. “He’s one the artists that gets mentioned most often by younger artists—in their applications to the festival, to our seminar, our fellowship, etc. He’s definitely emblematic of the kind of work that BlackStar is built on and it made sense that our first museum show is of his work.”

The five immersive environments at the ICA’s Swarm include ‘Univitellin, a star-crossed romantic tragedy, and ‘Swimming in Your Skin Again, a short film from 2015 celebrating the coming of age through dance- and movement-based works. When it comes to Penn Live Arts, his debut blend of live action and animation, ‘An Oversimplification of Her Beauty’, and several commercials and shorts (including one dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, ‘Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky’) will screen.

Holmes has been curator-at-large for film at Penn Live Arts since 2020, and states that it was important to screen ‘Oversimplification’ as it was her introduction to Nance’s work.

“I knew anecdotally that a lot of folks, especially younger artists, still hadn’t seen the film—at least not on the big screen—and I thought it was important to be seen as an embodiment of his practice and earlier work.”

Terence Nance, Univitellin (still), 2016.Courtesy of Terence Nance

As for Nance himself, the artist spoke briefly from Baltimore before coming to Philadelphia for the Swarm exhibition, recalling fondly the influence and joy of this city on his life and work.

“’Random Acts of Flyness’ premiered at the BlackStar Film Festival in 2018, and coming together every summer in Philly to celebrate, watch, and share Black cinema has been foundational for me,” said Nance. “When the opportunity to collaborate with Maori and BlackStar on an exhibition at ICA Philadelphia presented itself, it felt like a natural expansion of our relationship. While the festival is global in its reach, its history and community are rooted in Philadelphia, and I’m honored to present work here once again.”

For more information, visit PennLiveArts.org and icaphila.org/exhibitions/terence-nance-swarm