Ugly Plymouths is a one-act play for three screens starring Hot Dog, Doobie and Le Que Sabe. The three characters talk and sing alongside and over each other, one receding as another moves into the foreground. Sometimes dialogue falls into a robotic unison, a kind of emotionless chorus. The voices define the distance between them more than the relation. They have trouble relating, despite their efforts at romance, and this troubled relating is the subject of their dialogue.
In Ugly Plymouths, the characters are not visualized; only their surroundings, and surrounding thoughts, are. Videos pan across beach vacations and occupational imagery, like carwashing and window repairing. The video installation takes as its establishing environment the Los Angeles described in Bob Kaufman’s poem “Hollywood:” in this Los Angeles, the city is sick without leave. Actors, artists, pimps, sales clerks and poets are selling delusions whole-heartedly, where there is always a catch and never a foundation.
First presented by Bridget Donahue and Sadie Coles HQ at 5239 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles as part of Frieze LA 2020, Ugly Plymouths was subsequently shown in October 2020 by Sadie Coles HQ’s off-site residency at 24 Cork Street in London.
Images from Ugly Plymouths serve as the visual basis for Sym's most recent publication with Primary Information, Shame Space — an artist book that explores the possibilities of narrative and identity. The book collects a selection of journal writings by Syms from 2015-2017 in which she attempts to capture her shadow self alongside a selection of image stills from Ugly Plymouths (2020). The diaristic commentary in Shame Space is gathered into fifteen chapters that stage narrative as a process of being in the making.
Shame Space’s design mimics the bible form, with its A5 size, embossed leather-textured cover, and gold edge painting. Translating Syms’s ongoing research and interest in new media technologies to the page, the book’s still images were coded using a programming script, such that the design, like the chatbot’s SMS responses, is an exercise in machine automation.