Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice

The Graham Foundation, Chicago, United States
26 Sep 2018 - 12 Jan 2019

View of “Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice.” Courtesy the artist, Bridget Donahue, New York and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Nathan Keay

View of “Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice.” Courtesy the artist, Bridget Donahue, New York and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Nathan Keay

The Graham Foundation is pleased to present an immersive installation by Los Angeles-based artist, and self-described “conceptual entrepreneur,” Martine Syms. At the center of the exhibition is Syms’ first feature length film Incense Sweaters & Ice.

Through the daily life of the main protagonist—Girl, a traveling nurse—the project explores the proliferation of ways in which one’s image is captured and transmitted in public and private life— from surveillance cameras to smart phones—and the ways one moves between looking, being looked at, and remaining unseen. The film is also a meditation on the three cities in which it is set—Los Angeles, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and Clarksdale, Mississippi—and how place lives on in its subjects, informing emotional and gestural landscapes across generations.

Painted vibrant purple, the Madlener House first floor gallery walls are offset by patterned violet filters on the windows, providing a setting for viewing the film that resembles a special effects backdrop. Purple is a color Syms uses for a its multitude of implications, and also simply to make the viewer say or think “the color purple,” a reference to Alice Walker’s 1982 novel. The film moves across three screens in the exhibition, requiring the viewer to migrate through the space to follow the narrative.

Exploring the idea of an expanded cinema, the second floor galleries feature work that extends the film, including a wall-scaled text painting GIRRRLGIRLLLGGGIRLGIIIRL (2017)—suggesting the vernacular greeting, “girl,” with various inflections—and a suite of 12 images overprinted on vintage movie posters marketed to African American audiences. The exhibition includes a augmented-reality (AR) phone application available for download, called wyd rn?, named for the acronym—what are you doing right now—that is used in the incessant lexicon of electronic communication and social media. The app activates the AR features—GIFs and videos—over the poster’s surface and brings the narrative full-circle back to the film. Collectively, the video, the app, and visitor engagement within the installation, realizes a real-time participatory collage.

This exhibition is the result of Martine Syms’ selection as a 2018 Graham Foundation Fellow—a new program that provides support for the development and production of original and challenging works and the opportunity to present these projects in an exhibition at the Graham’s Madlener House galleries in Chicago. The Fellowship program extends the legacy of the Foundation’s first awards, made in 1957, and continues the tradition of support to individuals to explore innovative perspectives on spatial practices in design culture. Recent Fellows, including Syms, David Hartt, Brendan Fernandez, Torkwase Dyson and Mark Wasiuta, join alumni from the original class of Fellows, such as Pritzker Prize winning architects Balkrishna V. Doshi and Fumihiko Maki, designer Harry Bertoia, photographer Harry M. Callahan, sculptor Eduardo Chillida, experimental architect Frederick J. Kiesler, and painter Wilfredo Lam, among others.

Incense Sweaters & Ice premiered at The Museum of Modern Art, in an exhibition curated by Jocelyn Miller, as part of the Elaine Dannheisser Project Series in 2017. In Chicago, Incense Sweaters & Ice is organized by Graham Foundation director Sarah Herda, and Ellen Alderman, deputy director, exhibitions and public programs.

In conjunction with the Graham Foundation exhibition, Syms’ work, SHE MAD: Laughing Gas (2016), is on view in Gallery 295 at the Art Institute of Chicago.




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