Garnering widespread attention for her work that combines conceptual grit, humor and social commentary, Martine Syms has emerged in recent years as one of the defining artists of her generation.
Loser Back Home premieres Syms’ latest works in video, sculpture, painting and photography. The exhibition’s title deliberates upon "dysplacement," a term created by historian Barbara Fields to describe the destruction of place and the loss of a shared sense of connection to one’s familiar or home country. In one of Syms’ new video works, This Is A Studio (2023), the artist uses surveillance footage that captures a late-night police visit, playing within a box covered in imagery from the artist’s daily life. This document raises questions about home, belonging and systems of power—concerns that reappear across the exhibition.
Clothes, which Syms often designs herself, offer the Los Angeles-based artist a further medium through which to examine the figure. Historically, the fields of sewing, film editing and computer programming are linked; all were initially considered monotonous and menial work and, therefore, positions often occupied by women. In i am wise enough to die things go, the actor wears a T-shirt that reads “To Hell With My Suffering”—a piece of clothing that has been worn by Syms’ digital avatars in previous videos. In reference to an Arthur Rimbaud poem on freedom and the discrepancy between desire and reality, the T-shirt defiantly declares “Being patient and being bored / Are too simple. To the devil with my cares.”
In her textile paintings, an array of previously worn garments—including screen-printed T-shirts, baseball caps and sweatshirts, some branded with high fashion labels—are stitched together into tapestries and stretched over metal frames, often with perforations that allow a view to the wall behind them. Taking on a totemic quality, the paintings become offerings of past, projected and shadow selves.
In the upstairs gallery, Syms presents Dream about the forrest fingering me from both ends (2023), a large wall-based photocollage surrounding an installation of intricate laser-cut sculptures that draw on moving boxes, shopping bags, ubiquitous commercial packaging, the folds of origami and personal ephemera.
For the photocollage and sculptures alike, Syms has amassed a library of images in a similar vein to stock photography banks, compulsively photographing everyday objects and settings, such as buildings, cars, mountains and flowers. Sourcing from this photographic research as well as from her own collection of ephemera, Syms transforms the material of everyday life into a visual field rich with personal iconography, poeticism and play.