Martine Syms: Neural Swamp

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Martine Syms: Neural Swamp
Curated by Irene Calderoni e Amanda Sroka

5 November 2021 – 30 January 2022
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Torino

Martine Syms (American, born 1988) is the inaugural recipient of the Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media, an initiative that supports the creation of innovative new work in video, film, performance, and sound by emerging artists. The commissioned work, Neural Swamp, builds on her interest in the proliferation, circulation, and consumption of images, as well as her continued research into machine systems that erase, or make invisible, Black bodies, voices, and narratives.
At the core of Neural Swamp is a digital installation featuring three entities: Athena, Dee, and the narrator, Jenny. Each character appears on a monitor, through which they communicate with each other, by engaging in a table read of a script that is written in real time using a text-generating model. The entities speak using text-to-speech artificial voices trained mainly on the artist’s voice. The text-generating model functions as a tool for writing, producing provisional scripts for the actresses to perform in conjunction with the Al voices. In the scene, which is continuously re-generated, Athena English, a former professional golfer in decline, and her personal assistant Dee, try to arrange a meeting. The characters interact, but their voices define a distance more than a relationship, paralleling the way that technologies, whose promised function is to make us perpetually connected to everything and everyone, in reality produce isolation, detachment, and dysfunctional relationships. This is the narrative fate of the relationship between Athena and Dee, enemy-friends, caught in a loop of ambiguous courtship, in a dialogue that always comes to nothing, where the voices address one another, but neither listening nor comprehension is possible.
The exhibition space is conceived as an immersive experience that echoes elements of the video narrative focused on the world of sport and the game of golf, featuring numerous digital simulations of the game interspersed with the film’s dialogic sequences. A gymnastics training facility supports the video devices, while the backdrop is reminiscent of a golf course or a tensile sports structure, the dominant colour of green evoking not just a golf course but the background used for digital shots and special effects.
The work conjures up an ambiguous space between inside and outside, artificial and real, human and non-human, in tune with the concept of “environmental cinema” that recurs in the artist’s thought: being continuously on screen, recorded or under surveillance, may be considered a form of constant performance, a process that can be defined in terms of a film perpetually in production, one that lasts as long as the world.
The Future Fields Commission is organized by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media is a collaborative initiative between the Museum and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. It is a platform to support the production and co-acquisition of work by compelling new voices in video, film, sound, and performance every two years. The work by Martine Syms, Neural Swamp, will be jointly acquired by the institutions.