New
Museum
Online Exhibition

Martine Syms: Reading Trayvon Martin

08/30/13

Public engagement with the Martin case staked out through bookmarked texts.

“Reading Trayvon Martin” is a personal bibliography for the criminal case following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. The site tracks articles and essays relating to the case that artist Martine Syms has read and bookmarked, each one presented as a headline with an accompanying link, devoid of timestamp, source, or tag.

Syms’s project began on April 2, 2012, with an article entitled “Trayvon Martin’s Last Minutes,” which was published by CNN shortly after the case began to receive national attention. From this point, her bookmarks wind through a range of media and opinion, including mainstream news sources, like the New York Times, AP, or Huffpost: Black Voices; local press like the Tampa Bay Times; in-depth opinion from Think Progress or Colorlines; and even primary documents such as a PDF of Shellie Zimmerman’s signed testimony. What accumulates is an archive of intense attention, one that, as Syms notes, has no “foreseeable end” as her interest promises to persist even after the case has left the national spotlight. Part document, part ongoing performance, “Reading Trayvon Martin” reflects an active, emotionally engaged reader navigating the maelstrom of coverage that the case received.

The concept of reading in public, which is at the heart of this work, is one that Syms equates with political participation and solidarity. Asked about the conception of the piece, she writes:

I wanted to contribute to the grassroots movement that was originally sited on Twitter. For the past few years, I’ve been very interested in the “reader” as a position of power, the reader makes meaning and pleasure (or displeasure, in this case). With this piece, I tried to understand my own perspective as the “audience” of this event and its subsequent media coverage, particularly given my experience as a young black woman.

Here, reading, once considered a solitary endeavor, is re-examined as an active stance through the added dimensions of posting, sharing, reframing, and thus contributing to a broader conversation across social media. The act of bookmarking becomes synonymous with the process of staking out a position, publicly declaring a side or a perspective.

News cycles are designed to exhaust themselves: to break, aggregate, and elaborate stories, to create buzz as well as closure, and, above all, to create a desire for more news. By preserving the reception of the case as it unfolded within the media, “Reading Trayvon Martin” works against the way coherent memory and media synthesis are at odds with the continuous flow of fresh dramas and crises. Taken together, the headlines—among them “Fugitive Slave Mentality,” “Your Guide to the Idiotic Racist Backlash Against Trayvon Martin,” “America Is Dying Slowly: Talking About Hip-Hop After Trayvon Martin – Culture – GOOD,” “Trayvon Martin’s parents say his death was not ‘God’s plan’ | theGrio,” “Zimmerman lawyer pursuing traditional self-defense”—offer a time capsule of conversation around the Martin case and, on a deeper level, reflect the rage, despair, empathy, and institutional prejudice that permeate US history and are so entrenched in current events.

Martine Syms is an artist and conceptual entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. From 2007–11, she directed Golden Age, a project space focused on exhibitions, performances, and printed matter that she founded. At Golden Age, she organized over fifty innovative cultural projects ranging from film screenings to interactive online exhibitions. She also initiated a publishing program, which included a catalogue of ten titles by international, emerging artists. She has lectured at SXSW, Light Industry, Project Row Houses, the Houston Museum of African American Art, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Institute College of Art, and MoMA P.S.1, among other venues. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including presentations at the New Museum, MCA Chicago, Green Gallery (Milwaukee), Gene Siskel Film Center (Chicago), Capricious Space (Brooklyn), Wassaic Project (NY), and White Flag Projects (St. Louis).

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