Life is hard, work is exhausting and love is confusing. It’s the same for all of us. If you’re looking for art as some sort of escape from the ceaseless neurotic mundanities of your terrible life, Martine Syms’s new show isn’t it. But if you’re ok with an artist perfectly and neatly reflecting all of that business, then boy are you in for a treat.
Coursing across the walls of the gallery is a ‘threat map’, the kind of thing that shows the vulnerabilities in a computer system. Except the system here is Syms herself, or at least some version of her brain.
One statement says ‘Am I fat?’, with arrows scurrying across to ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I can’t tell anymore’ and ‘I’M FIIIINE’. Another reads ‘Who’s going to grab my booty?’; could it be ‘some anon d?’ or maybe ‘some friendly d?’. There are sections about money, about race, about friends not texting you back, about football. The whole thing is essentially a flowchart of negative bullshit, of fears and worries, notes to self, compulsions and obsessions: the kinds of things that constantly sprint through all of our brains, condensed down into a series of programming triggers.
In the middle of the space, a digital version of Syms’s face looms menacingly large. It’s an AI that you can text and interact with. Digi-Syms texts you back, the face on the screen talks about the sex she had last night, how much work she’s got to do, wonders if she can quit her day job yet. Like the rest of the show, it’s the mean, negative side of existence laid bare.
The whole show ends up as a neatly succinct portrait of modern, connected living. The texts, the selfies, the self-doubt, the racism, the surveillance of our social media feeds: all the things we tuck away but that keep us ticking through our everyday lives. It’s brilliantly horrible.
On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that someone on the other side of the world has the same neuroses as you. But on the other, it’s discomfortingly unnerving to realise how un-unique you are. Syms has puked all of her mental tics into her art, mapped them all out, and in the process mapped most of the rest of ours too. If you need reminding of just how nuts you are, this is the place to be.