She Mad: Laughing Gas
& Notes on Gesture
Cinémathèque Robert-Lynen, Paris
Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
Martine Syms, Notes on Gesture, 2015. HD video, 10'27. Courtesy of the artist
Rarely—if ever-shown in France, Martine Syms' videos are tackling very present issues, such as the becoming—screen of contemporary social life, the systematic mise-en-scene of the self, the meme-ification of the real, and the intensity of social inequalities, while registering and extending the history of American visual culture. With She Mad: Laughing Gas, a new episode of a sitcom started in 2015, she remakes a 1907 short film (Edwin Porter's Laughing Gas), one of the very first films to stage a black principal role, i.e. actress Bertha Regustus. In this remake, the heroin crosses the vagaries of the American health system, of urban space, and of media representations thanks to an endless laugh—comedy as a way to take over issues of race, gender, and social inequalities.
The video Notes on Gesture is a series of energizing gifs, the updated version of a 17th-century treatise Chirologia: Or the Natural Language of the Hand. It offers a repertoire of African-American women body and verbal language, highlighting how our bodies (hands, hair, face) constantly respond to social, cultural, and identity stimuli. The power of stereotypes and viral images versus gestures of empowerment: an ethnography of our days.
Born in 1988, Martine Syms lives in Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited and screened extensively, including recent presentations at Karma International and Hammer Museum (both in Los Angeles), the New Museum, Bridget Donahue Gallery, and The Studio Museum (all three in New York), Kunsthalle Bern, MOCA Los Angeles, and MCA Chicago. She recently founded Dominica Publishing dedicated to exploring blackness in visual culture.