artist / participant


press release

The Graham Foundation is pleased to present an immersive installation by Los Angeles-based artist Martine Syms. At the center of the exhibition is Syms’ first feature length film Incense Sweaters & Ice. The film follows Girl—a traveling nurse—as she navigates relationships with family, friends, and her flirtations with WB (whiteboy), intercut with scenes of Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White who speaks directly to the viewer from a purple-hued soundstage. Through the daily life of the main protagonist, the project explores the proliferation of ways in which one’s image is captured and transmitted in public and private life—from surveillance cameras to smartphones—and the ways one moves between looking, being looked at, and remaining unseen. The film is also a meditation on the three cities in which it is set—Los Angeles, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and Clarksdale, Mississippi—and how place lives on in its subjects, informing emotional and gestural landscapes across generations.

Incense Sweaters & Ice was supported by a Graham Foundation grant in 2017 and this exhibition is the result of Martine Syms’ selection as a 2018 Graham Foundation Fellow—a new program that provides support for the development and production of original and challenging works and the opportunity to present these projects in an exhibition at the Graham’s Madlener House galleries in Chicago. The Fellowship program extends the legacy of the Foundation’s first awards, made in 1957, and continues the tradition of support to individuals to explore innovative perspectives on spatial practices in design culture.

Martine Syms works in video, performance, and publishing. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 2007 to 2011, Syms was codirector of Golden Age, a project space in Chicago focused on printed matter; she is also the founder of Dominica, an independent publishing company dedicated to exploring blackness as a topic, reference, marker, and audience in visual culture. Syms is represented by Bridget Donahue, New York and Sadie Coles HQ, London.

Incense Sweaters & Ice premiered at The Museum of Modern Art, in an exhibition curated by Jocelyn Miller as part of the Elaine Dannheisser Project Series in 2017. The Chicago presentation is organized by Graham Foundation director Sarah Herda, and Ellen Alderman, deputy director, exhibitions and public programs.