Multimedia artist Martine Syms’ digital works headlined the Italian house’s two-day takeover of Genghis Cohen
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
Los Angeles native Martine Syms gave her city a voyeuristic look at itself with HelLA World, her digital installation at Fairfax Avenue’s Genghis Cohen restaurant, where Prada Mode’s traveling social club took up residency. The space, complete with a library lounge, café and restaurant serving the spot’s Sichuan fare plus nightly conversations, performances by Sudan Archives and Junglepussy and DJ sets, marked the seventh iteration of the art-driven project that has also included collaborations with Damien Hirst and Theaster Gates in cities across Europe and Asia. Staged over two days during Frieze week as the international art fair opened in L.A., Syms created an interactive direct message stream with text ticking across snaking monitors in real time. Her array of cameras captured footage to play back on a rectangular architecture of screens that showed guests milling about, in conversation, sipping drinks, checking phones, posing for pictures, all of the usual party theatrics. Gabrielle Union, Jeff Goldblum, Damson Idris, Storm Reid, Rashida Jones, Milla Jovovich, Jon Rafman, Jordan Wolfson, Ella Balinska, Thomas Demand, Hailey Benton Gates and Frieze’s Victoria Siddall all stopped in to see Syms’ work.
For Syms, the installation screens combined notions of surveillance with a nod to Zoom pandemic gatherings and Andy Warhol’s often quoted wish for multiple monitors playing party footage he could view from his bedroom yet feel as though he was actually in attendance. She calls the installation a “real time cinema” of sorts, pointing out that people’s interactions with screens “engenders performances that are baked into our socializing.”
“There’s no one way anything should be done — even when there’s supposed to be a certain convention”
The artist, who held two panel discussions at Prada Mode, cites music and skate videos, bootleg concert tapes, New York Dolls tapes and recordings of Soul Train as early inspiration. “Carrying cameras with me changed the way people behaved, I didn’t want to alter what they were doing,” she noted during one talk titled L.A., Cinema and Contemporary Art, with panelists including artist and poet Diamond Stingily, filmmakers Garrett Bradley and Daisy Zhou and moderator Erin Christovale, a Hammer Museum associate curator. A second discussion centered on the HelLa World installation included a conversation between Syms and Harvard University’s Sarah E. Lewis. Syms says finding people’s old VHS tapes at thrift stores and then trying to make something that looked similar has fueled her work.
Her debut feature-length film currently on the festival circuit and slated for release later this year, The African Desperate, follows a day in the life of Palace Bryant who earns her MFA in upstate New York and then travels home to Chicago. Citing films including Friday, set in L.A., as inspiration, Syms says she wanted to create a film structured by one day, that bends space and time following a style she calls Nu American Cinema, unshackled from conventional linear filmmaking. “There’s no one way anything should be done. Even when there’s supposed to be a certain convention, it’s like, ‘Why though?’” she says.
At Genghis Cohen, Syms spent two days using monitors and tickers to disrupt space and project thoughts, expressions, updates and real-time images, furthering her cinematic exploration. “Everyone’s recording all the time,” she says. “I’m looking at how media guides the way we relate to each other.”
February 28, 2022
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