Artist Martine Syms on the Queer Epic Novel You Need to Read

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A prolific reader, Syms’ recommendation contains the same millefeuille of references and ideas that she constructs within her own work, too

“I recently read a book called Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, by Andrea Lawlor. It’s an epic, but set in 1990s alternative communities from Iowa to San Francisco, with a brief detour via Chicago. A lot of the book is a commentary on the minutiae of subcultures. It’s a mythic structure – Paul is this seducer who has the ability to switch genders, so Paul can become Polly. It’s an insane and amazing book – it references queer literature and theory, but it’s super funny and sexy. In my work I’m using imagery as well as words, but I’m interested in that layering – of one image with a million different associations, all tied to a literary history – as a texture. I tend to take strategies from fiction – it’s a helpful way of thinking about ideas that’s not didactic or theoretical. I’ve got back into reading novels this year. I was pretty heavy on non-fiction, essays and theory, but I’m back, baby.”

That Martine Syms is a prolific reader should come as no surprise. The Los Angeles-born ‘conceptual entrepreneur’ – a title she coined for herself, to many journalists’ delight – synthesises internet culture with cultural theory to illuminating effect. Knitting together narratives and media – from graphic design, lectures and video to printed pieces and performance – she creates an endlessly refracted perspective through which to view the world. She also founded Dominica, a small press dedicated to examining blackness “as a topic, reference, marker and audience in visual culture”, unpicking identity through essays, art projects and fiction, by herself and others. This autumn she opens exhibitions at Bridget Donahue in New York, Sadie Coles HQ in London, Graham Foundation in Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Martine Syms, Grand Calme, runs until October 20, 2018. On October 1, 2018, Sadie Coles HQ will present a talk and performance between Martin Syms and the artist and composer Colin Self.

Hair: Pawel Solis at Artlist Paris using Oribe. Make-up: Adrien Pinault at Management Artists using MAC. Photographic assistant: Charlotte Krieger. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Camila Paiva and Georgina Craig. Make-up assistant: Marie Tritsch

This story originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now.