Portfolio: Martine Syms

A Twitter academic, a science fiction writer and a Wells Fargo debit card: Martine Syms shares some images that are important to her

On my desktop is a folder named MOOD; its icon is a purple Chicago Bulls logo. 

Two years ago I started dragging files into it in preparation for a parody site I was working on called ‘FubuWeb’. (A pilot version of FubuWeb can be viewed here.) Since then, I’ve collected conceptual writing, electronic music, ethnopoetics, videos and other documents. My MOOD folder catalogues the vagaries of my interests better than anything else. Below are a few highlights.

All images courtesy: the artist

All images courtesy: the artist

Woman with a Video Camera

I found this image at the Altadena Historical Society while I was researching for my short story ‘Solitude’. The science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler inspired the main character, and I came across this photograph in her ‘people file’. It documents a public reading and book signing at a black feminist bookstore in the 1980s. The women organized the signing, publicized it and shot it for posterity. I wish I could get hold of that footage.

A Tweet from 1 December, 2014

'The Public Archive' is one of my favorite academics. I’ve learned more from him over Twitter than I ever did in college. 

When he posted this tweet I stopped scrolling, hit command + shift + 3, read it several times to make sure I understood it, and then slid into those DMs for some recommended reading. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000) is a good place to start if you want to learn more.


George Wallace was an OK guest on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but he wore this hat so he wins. It’s available on his website. There’s a shirt too.

Motivational Text Messages

From my diary:

I just read this essay called ‘Coalition Politics’ (1983) by Bernice Johnson Reagon and it has given me a completely new idea about my engagement to the art world. Like, if I think about the art world as a coalition, as a moral and political economy that I’m in, then it all makes sense. It is not my home. It a place where I do the work I need to do. The work I feel I need to do.

Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home!’

I got a home and it ain’t contemporary art nawmean.

…Out …Into this world …This world

Every morning you should watch the made-for-television performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I (1972), which was broadcast by the BBC in 1990 and stars the mouth of Billie Whitelaw. It’s only 15 minutes long.

When I joined Wells Fargo they said I could put a photo of my family on my debit card. I uploaded an image of Whitelaw's mouth.

Who is Bertha Regustus?

My current obsession is the 1907 short-film Laughing Gas – I’m working on a remake. I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about Bertha Regustus, who plays Mandy, the film’s star. Neither the Library of Congress nor the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University provided any leads, but I’m not surprised: archives don’t care about black people.

If you know something they don’t know, hit me up.

Thou Shalt Suck My Grits

Porter Garnett’s laws are printed on the back of one of Esprit’s brand books. I don’t remember which it comes from; it’s either Graphic Work 1984-1986 or Esprit: The Comprehensive Design Principle. If you have USD$500 and an eBay account you can find out.

The most important rules are #6 and #7. I like to surround myself with the sensitive and the informed.

Martine Syms is an artist and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, USA. She is the founder of Dominica, a small press dedicated to 'nowhere shit'. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including recent presentations at Karma International, LA, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York, the New Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, Index Stockholm, Sweden, MOCA Los Angeles and MCA Chicago. Syms has also lectured at Yale University, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University and MoMA PS1, amongst other venues. From 2007–11, she directed Golden Age, a Chicago-based project space focused on printed matter. Her solo exhibition 'Fact & Trouble' opens at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, on 18 April, and her work will be included in 'Made in LA: a, the, though, only', Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in June.

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