artist / participant
From May 27 through July 16, The Museum of Modern Art presents Projects 106: Martine Syms, the first solo museum exhibition in the United States of the work of Martine Syms (b. 1988). A part of The Elaine Dannheisser Projects Series, the exhibition features an immersive installation centering on the artist's first feature-length film, Incense Sweaters & Ice (2017). Shot on location, the film travels from Mississippi to Los Angeles by way of St. Louis, reflecting the legacies of the Great Migration.
The narrative follows three protagonists—Girl, her great-aunt Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White, and her new acquaintance WB (“whiteboy”)—as they move between watching, being watched, and remaining unseen. Presented on the Museum’s third floor, the exhibition is designed to resemble an image production set. Continuous swathes of purple reference the chroma-keyed environments used by visual effects studios to composite images for motion pictures, news broadcasts, or video games. At the center of the space, Incense Sweaters & Iceappears on three large screens arranged in a triangular configuration, with the image migrating from screen to screen as new scenes unfold, in order to keep viewers moving in space and following the artist’s cues. Accompanying the film is a suite of prints that superimpose photographic stills from Incense Sweaters & Ice onto found American movie posters. An artist-designed augmented reality (AR) app is being planned in conjunction with the exhibition, which will allow viewers to unlock additional media from the film’s narrative through the posters, creating an exchange between audience and artist, still and moving images, and screens both public and private.
Using original and found content, Syms shows how identity production and image production have become intertwined in contemporary life, particularly due to the public’s constant interaction with and appropriation of mass culture for personal social media. In crafting these personal narratives, it is now common to incorporate images that are only experienced through the mediating lens of mass culture. Using this as a departure point, Syms's film explores a shared cultural inheritance of television shows, advertisements, police camera footage, Vines, and original photographs to create a dynamic collage about familial, cultural, and historical legacy.
Martine Syms uses video and performance to examine representations of blackness and its relationship to narrative, black vernacular, feminist movements, and radical traditions. Her work has been exhibited and screened extensively, including presentations at Artspace, Berlin Biennale, Manifesta 11, Hammer Museum, New Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, MCA Chicago, The Green Gallery, Gene Siskel Film Center, and White Flag Projects. Her critically acclaimed documentary The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto explored the work of five Southern California artists and premiered on KCET. Syms has lectured at Yale University, SXSW, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and MoMA PS1, among other venues. Her recent exhibitions include Borrowed Lady, SFU Galleries, Vancouver; Fact & Trouble, ICA London; COM PORT MENT, Karma International, Los Angeles; and Vertical Elevated Oblique, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York. From 2007 to 2011 she was the co-director of the Chicago artist-run project space Golden Age, and she currently runs Dominica Publishing. She is the author of Implications and Distinctions: Format, Content and Context in Contemporary Race Film (2011).
Projects 106: Martine Syms is organized by Jocelyn Miller, Curatorial Associate, MoMA PS1.
In conjunction with Projects 106, Syms will participate in a Modern Mondays evening at The Museum of Modern Art on July 10.
The Elaine Dannheisser Projects Series is made possible in part by the Elaine Dannheisser Foundation and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art. Special thanks to Brent Freaney at Special—Offer.