ACE Open respectfully acknowledges the traditional country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and pays respects to Elders past and present. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. We acknowledge that they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today.

ACE Open tampinthi, ngadlu Kaurna yartangka panpapanpalyarninthi (inparrinthi). Kaurna miyurna yaitya mathanya Wama Tarntanyaku. Parnaku yailtya, parnaku tapa purruna, parnaku yarta ngadlu tampnthi. Yalaka Kaurna miyurna itu yailtya, tapa purruna, yarta kuma puru martinthi, puru warri-apinthi, puru tangka martulayinthi.

recess presents

8 May - 17 July

A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere by Martine Syms

With text by Aristilde Kirby

Two channel digital video, 24 min 31 sec
Video courtesy of Video Data Bank at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
© Martine Syms



                                                     Escape From LA

At the near-beginning of Martine Syms’ A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere (2015), the protagonist, played by the artist – also curiously named Martine, texts her friend Nina on the way to a train, presumably on the LA Metro Rail. It seems she is on her way home from work (the time is 5:43 PM).

Nina says: “It didn’t work out with the doctor.”
Martine replies, beatless, seconds later: “:( on to the next one.”

Nina delivers the most sincere text message I’ve ever seen, simulation in a simulation or not:
“Why can’t I find love?”

Martine replies, seconds later: “getting on the train”.

I put this period outside of that quotation so I don’t overstate how much of a fragment (an incomplete sentence) that reply is. We read the reply as something genuine: ‘I’m getting on the train, let me take care of that & I’ll hit you back in a bit.’

Of course, through the lens of television, which has looked more & more like a computer screen as the years have passed, the sitcom genre evolved into a further hybrid.

The video’s edit directly after that text-message reply converts it into the most deadpan of jokes; we see a view from the phone’s camera: Martine looks up and away from the screen. This is what happens when reality TV collapses the traditional comic timings of the sitcom. Just before that scene, the character Martine drags & drops a .gif (which has gained more cultural currency as the reaction image) of Kim Kardashian’s iconic ugly cry onto her desktop, presumably where she does the graphic design work that sustains her life as a creative in the show.

You can give a smiley or frowny face, & can LOL without necessarily making that reaction IRL. Does that mean we wear a mask of normalcy, that is, of neutral tranquility as we walk through the world? Probably definitely. Deep into the video’s run time, one of the Pilot’s split screens displays an Instagram screenshot: “ARE YOU THE STAR OF YOUR LIFE”. Again, the period. I think there’s no question that Martine really feels for Nina without making a face that scans as sadness, at least to me, someone who lives in the now.

I didn’t laugh at that joke, but I recognized it as one. It made me laugh, not on the outside, but theoretically, you know, I got the joke. Getting the joke gave me a sense of pleasure. But the sensibility of the edit, of Syms’ directorial hand, made that happen. If the scene had gone on any longer, I might have missed it. To live a nuanced life, that is to say, a real one, at least to me, means that some permutations of emotion can be far more slight than others. Not everything has to be on display, & usually it isn’t. The techniques of editing applied to life on display can highlight those moments as something substantial, that is to say: meaningful, that glimmers, shines, or blinds in the realm of the senses.

One of my favorite things about HBO’s series Insecure (2016) when I watched it was the savvy with which it deployed music in scenes. Though it is recognized as a dramedy, an article from the New York Film Academy notes that contemporary American sitcoms have more in common these days with the hybrid comedy-drama of the 80’s & 90’s than the traditional sitcom, that either used a laugh track or was filmed in front of a live studio audience. What the contemporary sitcom has also largely discarded, is the standard episodic formula, depicted around 19 minutes 30 seconds in Martine’s Pilot:

                                   Episode =
                                   Familiar Status Quo -> Ritual error made -> Ritual lesson learned ->
                                            Familiar Status Quo

A hypothesis of the New York Film Academy article is that America runs on the above model. Now more than ever do people know that the wanton erasure of black people by police, others, & the systems they uphold is wrong by all moral metrics, but after the final (they’re never final) commercial breaks we find ourselves back to the familiar status quo.

         This place…is never what it seems.

We can recognize this phenomenon as a tragedy unilaterally. But it has also made clearer than ever to me that the people in places of power see the larger pandemic of racism as something that requires no urgency as far as action.

I sit in on meetings with LA councilpeople that get blown new assholes (like sex dolls at the tail-end of fabrication) for an hour by great people who want the police abolished, just to hear they pass a law at the end of that meeting to divert 100,000 dollars from the 3 billion dollar budget to a program that foregrounds ‘fostering relationships between police & youth.’ (2020) People are still violently & even subtly racist in a pandemic, which means that they delight in being so. They think it’s fun. That is the problem that will outlive this period, not the virus.

         Take me out LA
         Take me out of LA

At 18 minutes 18 seconds in Pilot, Syms states that “… stand-up comedians provide a model for the self-reflexiveness that characterizes the contemporary moment.”
8:46 (2020), the latest special by Dave Chappelle, is the most resounding example of this, perhaps he’s the most himself in the stand-up venue. He links the duration of George Floyd’s murder with his birth time & the 8 & 24 from Kobe’s jerseys that they hang in the rafters at the Grammy’s in memoriam to the athletes birthday. There is very little that is humorous about what he says, the sincere exasperation, because it’s not a joke. “Am I boring you?,” he asks at one point. He earnestly addresses the situational tragedy of current events that trail from the distant past:

        “Candace Owens…she told George Floyd’s rap record…on the Internet. ‘Oh, he was a this, he did that, & he’s a drug addict, & he’s not a hero, why does the Black community choose him as a hero…’ We didn’t choose him! YOU did! They KILLED HIM, & that wasn’t right, so he’s the guy. We’re not…desperate for heroes…in the Black community…any nigga that survives this nightmare is my goddamned hero.”

He breaks, the crowd applauds.

        “This is not funny at all. I got some pussy jokes I could do, but I just really just…”

He talks about watching the George Floyd video:

        “I didn’t watch the tape for a week. I knew… I saw a still picture. I said I don’t wanna         see this, because I can’t unsee it…”

In a world where body cameras & cell phones collapse reality TV into real life, the ritual depictions of black death cut me to the core. Which is why I, like Dave Chappelle, don’t watch videos of black people getting killed. Because why would I want to ever see that? How many times will people learn just so we just restore the general status quo? Now, watch the notion of chokeholds become the new go-to reformist option that won’t solve anything.

I would rather watch what Syms’ Pilot program proposes, as I try to distract myself from the heartbreak of this permanent funeral: black women watching TV, & not the news, for pleasure, as a black woman watching TV, which is to say, just living life, content, without a care in the world.

Living life where the most pressing questions we have about our existence are a question of who we love or why we seek it out. Even if trying to achieve that it is a fantasy, it’s worth it, because the reality we endure is far worse. Whatever nowhere she’s talking about, I want to go.


Written by Aristilde Kirby

Aristilde Kirby is a poet. She has chapbooks with Belladonna* & Black Warrior Review. She’s published with Vetch, Datableed, & Form IV, & is forthcoming in The Best American Experimental Writing 2020. She is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree at Bard College. She acts as Program Assistant to The Home School.

Martine Syms
A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere, 2015
Two channel digital video, 24 min 31 sec
Video and Image courtesy and copyright of the artist, of Video Data Bank at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
© Martine Syms

Sweaty Scales by Liang Luscombe

With text by Kyle B. Johanson

HD digital video with sound, 25 min 40 sec
Image courtesy of the artist
© Liang Luscombe

Cream puffs have fallen, hands have been gloved,
and it appears people may be wearing masks.
The director of photography is dancing — it’s what everyone wants to do well, Lisa may be on the fence.

Oliver is feverishly sweating.

The sub-text is anxiety.

This thing has style, and it’s all about love.
Memphis-design style, fogged-lens-acid-soap-opera style, neon-alien-playhouse style.
Powder-blue-soft-power-pantsuit style, petting-the-candy-watering-can style.
He pours too much soy sauce into his bowl for dim sum.

The sub-text is anxiety.

It’s weird and sexy. Abolition can feel like that.
Witchy kinship vibes and an unconscious mind wondering if she feels “the same.”
After all they are both wearing very cute matching outfits.
If only that nice narrator with the suit and wry smile would just tell us, that would be easier.
Is she God? She seems to know a lot.

Someone is being seduced.

Pop-up Asian schoolgirls, secretaries, subs, and a sex worker named Suzie Wong.
The trailer for her 1960 movie says she’s “irrepressible,” that Hong Kong is a “strange” place, and that “her world will soon be yours.”

There are many implications.

Dragon-lady style, drag-queen-lady style,
framing the gaze is a gay affair, thank goodness for rhinestone nails and leather.
The silk kimono is hot.

What are these sweaty scales? Are they a slippery armor or an over-exorcized device for determining value? Will they assign us identity, as dom or sub — puppet or master? Are they responsible for the imaginary lines traced around territories and beings? Are they capable of delivering justice? Perhaps the sweat in that lady’s eyes is what made her become blind in the first place.

Who has the privilege to be human?

The angles are all a bit wonky, the camera lurches as if possessed. The White ghost may not be the only spectre in the room.

Others might be here too, reminding the Lilly blossom to

“Salve salvage in the spin.
Endorse the splendor splashes;
stylize the flawed utility;
prop a malign or failing light–
but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.”

Lisa can’t help the way that she feels. Oliver can’t help the way that he feels.
That is a radical thing to say, how in this whirlwind do they know that?
Can we know where natural feelings end and enculturated ones begin?
Can love be purely real, and should that purity really be desired?
Can these sweaty scales measure that too? No wonder they are sweaty, this is a lot of work.

There’s definitely something coming over, a possession by those dispossessed. This love spectacle has some ghosts of seasons past. It feels like they came over a long time ago.

Was Oliver dead to begin with? What a dickens of a twist that would be.

The end is blackness. In the break. Something was definitely broken. The ad on TV won’t change to matter how hard those buttons are pushed. Something has narrative surrounded and appears to have been here all along, orienting us to face ourselves and our rituals of racial-capitalist identities and their endless representations.

The screen may be hard to change but the selfie mirror looks more optimistic. Perhaps it could become a consciousness-raising circle if we allow ourselves the self-reflection.

And Ms Brooks is still here whispering, with her Second Sermon on the Warpland, saying:

“It is lonesome, yes.  For we are the last of the loud.
Nevertheless, live.
Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.”

This thing has style, and it’s all about love.


Written by Kyle Bellucci Johanson

Kyle Bellucci Johanson completed a B.A. in Reconciliation Studies and Art from Bethel University in 2009. In 2008 he studied peace and conflict at the University of Ulster in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and completed an M.F.A. at California Institute of the Arts in 2016. Kyle was a 2015 fellow of at land’s edge, an artist-led, autonomous, and experimental platform focused on intergenerational mentorship and engaged programming in community-run spaces across east and south Los Angeles. In 2018 Kyle opened table, a temporary project space dedicated to situating artist’s practices through exhibition, discursive meals, and publication. Currently he is an adjunct assistant professor at University of Illinois Chicago, and lecturer at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Kyle’s work has recently been on view at the Gray Center at the University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois), Bill’s Auto (Chicago, Illinois), Museum of Contemporary Art on the Moon (MOCAM), Automata (Los Angeles, California), Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois), ALTES FINANZAMT (Berlin, Germany), Centro Cultual Metropolitano – MET Quito (Quito, Ecuador), and Human Resources (Los Angeles, California).

Liang Luscombe is a visual artist currently based in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include: Sweaty Scales, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2019; She inches glass to break, VCUarts MFA Thesis Exhibition, Richmond, 2018; Table Talk, Box Copy, Brisbane, 2016; A Tall Painter, Yarra Flats, Melbourne, 2016; Three Sailors, Sutton Project Space, Melbourne, 2014. She has been included in screenings at Comfort Station, Chicago and Vehicle, NYC. She has undertaken residencies at Chicago Artist Coalition 2019 HATCH Residency Program; SOMA Summer in 2018; the Australia Council Studio, British School at Rome in 2013; and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art Studio Residency in 2011.

Liang Luscombe
Sweaty Scales, 2019
HD digital video with sound, 25 min 40 sec
Images courtesy of the artist
© Liang Luscombe

Two channel digital video, 24 min 31 sec
Video courtesy of Video Data Bank at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
© Martine Syms

HD digital video with sound, 25 min 40 sec
Image courtesy of the artist
© Liang Luscombe