Lessons I-CLXXX, 2014

Basel 2018
Sadie Coles HQ
Digital video, loop; handmade cushion
Lessons I-CLXXX is an ongoing, incomplete video work composed of 30-second clips – a cumulative poem whose structure evolves at random. Snapshots of disconnected experiences and subjects accumulate into a mass of fragmentary narratives, relating (directly and incidentally) to the lives of black Americans. Drawn from myriad sources – including YouTube videos, 1980s TV shows, Vines, and personal footage – the Lessons form a growing corpus that Martine Syms has been making since 2014. When multiple lessons are screened together, an algorithm that is programmed not to repeat the same clip twice in a row selects the play order. The result is a shifting collage of fragments – variously found and constructed – that hint at larger narratives. The work is inspired by Kevin Young’s book The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (2012), a collection of literary and music criticism. In this, various traditions handed down through North American black culture – cultural forms that may appear obscure, including personal histories – are theorized as lessons. Syms develops this form by collecting images of blackness that circulate, become internalized, and are performed as everyday gestures.