Martine Syms

23 November 2017
Martine Syms, still from A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere, 2015
Martine Syms, still from A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere, 2015

Leeds Art Gallery

Martine Syms
A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere
Two-channel video, colour, sound
24:29 min
Edition 5 of 5 (+ 1 AP)

A major work by LA-based artist Martine Syms has been gifted to Leeds Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative. This scheme encourages debate on the gender imbalance in museum collections by donating work of a living female artist to a UK museum each year.

Syms works in publishing, performance, video, essay and photography. The artist often juxtaposes her own voice or appearance with found footage from the internet, film and TV- particularly sitcoms – to probe linguistic and visual representation of gender and African-Americans in the mass media.

The video Pilot for a Show About Nowhere (2015) was originally commissioned by the New Museum in New York.  It gives a pastiched history of the depictions of African Americans in television, incorporating footage from a number of sources, such as The Cosby Show. Black sitcoms in the United States hold the potential to break down widely held preconceptions. At the same time, they often erase the struggles and realities of the people they represent.The work is a pilot for an imagined sitcom by called ‘She Mad’, and re-enactments of the artist’s life ground the film in her own biography.  Her appropriation of footage from American sitcoms, combined with a sophisticated take on 21st Century social media communication gives her a very distinct voice hat has not yet been seen in museums in the UK.  

The video will form a centre-piece of a major collections redisplay at Leeds Gallery in autumn 2017, which will encourage new audiences to visit and explore the new displays in the museum’s renovated spaces. It will also form an entry point to contemporary art for an audience not familiar with it as it strongly relates to the demographics of the communities that Leeds Art Gallery serves. Leeds Art Gallery will particularly benefit due to its strong connection to a number of academic institutions in the region and its sound interest in working towards gender balance in both the collection and programme, for which this significant work will push further discussion.

Martine Syms (b. 1988, Los Angeles, USA) studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere was show-cased at Camden Arts Centre, London, in spring 2017, prior to going to Leeds Art Gallery. Recent solo exhibitions include MoMA, New York (May 2017) and ICA, London (2016). She has also participated in group exhibitions at Raven Row, London (2017); Pinchuk Art Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Massachusetts; and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016).

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society through Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS), 2016/17


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