When your voice is the dataset

The inspiration behind Martine Syms' new interactive video installation, Neural Swamp

By Google Arts & Culture

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

American artist Martine Syms uses video and performance to examine representations of blackness in visual culture across generations, geographies, mediums, and traditions. 

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

Her research-based practice frequently references and incorporates theoretical models concerning performed or imposed identities, the power of the gesture, and embedded assumptions concerning gender and racial inequalities.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including at MoMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, Graham Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, Serralves Foundation, Hammer Museum, ICA London, New Museum, MOCA Los Angeles, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others.

Martine Syms

Here, Syms talks through the inspiration behind her latest interactive video installation, Neural Swamp, developed in part with the AMI Grants residency and with the support of Special–Offer, a global creative studio.

Martine Syms (2020) by Artists + Machine Intelligence

Martine Syms introduction

Martine, introduce yourself.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

Martine Syms introduces Neural Swamp

Tell us about your project, Neural Swamp.

Neural Swamp is a play presented across five screens. I wanted to make a project that mimicked the process of making a film.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

It uses a script that I've written to generate images, videos and text. Two of the five voices in the script are powered by machine learning.

Sometimes the dialogue falls into a robotic unison, a kind of emotionless chorus, and sometimes it becomes more distant.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

How does this project relate to your practice?

My practice foregrounds how the racialized and gendered self is mediated by technology. I work primarily in moving image, time-based media, and text. I use various tools to explore how to influence the presentation of my work.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

What part did machine learning play?

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a living, breathing, fleshy, messy thing in a world full of screens, and I'm interested in how technology changes the way we relate to one another.  

Still from creation of "Neural Swamp" (2020) by Martine Syms

Your voice, like everyone's voice, is completely unique. The fact that the voice couldn't be easily copied in the past seemed important to me in some way about humanity, which is why I decided to replicate my voice for this project.

What excites you about working with machine learning?

Despite the many hours required to edit and prepare the assets, the thrill of playing back the results once the data has been applied to generate new outputs is enough to keep me going.

Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills] (2021) by Martine Syms

Neural Swamp will premiere at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadephia in Fall 2021.

Credits: Story

Images in order of appearance: Portrait of the artist, Photo: Taylor Rainbolt; Martine Syms, Neural Swamp, 2021 [stills].

All photography and images copyright Martine Syms. Courtesy of Martine Syms; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Bridget Donahue, New York; The Future Fields Commission; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Special thanks to Martine Syms, Holly Grimm, Jack Staffen, Rocket Caleshu, Lydon Frank Lettuce, Jake Nadrich, Parag K. Mital, Bridget Donahue, Special--Offer, Sadie Coles and John O’Doherty. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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