REVIEW | Martine Syms connects with the audience during her Insights series lecture at the Walker Art Center

Martine Syms’ was the third presenter at Insights, a lecture series co-presented by the Walker Art Center (WAC) and AIGA-MN Ms. Syms is described in promotional material as a “conceptual entrepreneur.”

The goal of this series is to help cash-strapped designers decide whether “being there” to see, listen, and meet offers any inspired benefits vs. buying one of the designers’ books or researching their Web sites or attending the lectures on-line. All Insights lectures are streamed online at the WAC Channel and via various AIGA chapters-the Sioux Falls Chapter showed it on the big screen with popcorn. The WAC suggests having an Insights Viewing Party (kit available) and encourages participation by sending in your comments and questions for the speakers via Twitter (#Insights2014).) 
In The Gradient, a WAC blog, I was introduced to the content of Ms. Syms’ lecture:
“In preparation for her Insights design lecture . . . Syms sent poet Kevin Young five questions, one for each lesson in his book, The Grey Album, published by Greywolf Press. In her new talk “Black Vernacular: Lessons of the Tradition,” Syms will describe her connection with the black radical tradition, using Young’s influential ideas as a framework to understand her own design practice and strategies of code-switching.” WAC’s web site further explains, “Martine Syms is many things—a graphic designer, a “conceptual entrepreneur,” a net artist—but most importantly, a thinker who examines the assumptions of contemporary America and ways that identity and memory are transformed by the shifting boundaries of business and culture.” 
Immediately, it was clear that she is a thinker. A strong self-introduction interspersed with poetry and dynamic images immediately gave her a wise-presence. She was forthright about sharing her appreciation for Young’s work, and shared moments from her past that were “life changers.” 
An additional, accurate description for Syms would simply be “an intellectual.” Unfortunately, the delivery of her case study on the ICE Cinemas in Chicago was really just a reading of a paper she had written. That was a disconnect. I missed the passion in this delivery. Not much is inspiring-on a personal level-when you’re in an audience listening to someone reading off a computer (as compelling as content may be).
As with De Brondt, the lecture visually was simply a PowerPoint presentation with interspersed video. It’s not an expectation that a designer is also a great presenter, but it is an expectation that a presentation at the Walker be artful and intentional. It would be great if the WAC could work with the presenters on being more engaging and dynamic in their delivery.
Syms continued to reference her inspirations and contemporaries throughout the presentation, and there were adequate slides shown of her self-driven (vs. client-driven) work. This wasn’t a “this is what I’ve done’ presentation,” it was a “this is what I wanted to share and teach about” lecture. I appreciated her candor in talking about projects she’s organized, mentoring groups/places she’s set-up, and exhibits she created. She also talked about a business she started to publish chosen works: Dominica Publishing.
My recommendation is to “YES, go see her in person” primarily because (with the exception of the beginning reading) being able to observe and hear her intensity and passion about her work was enhanced by being in the audience. I’m not sure that that would translate online. Also, as with all Insights lectures, you can go meet the presenters and ask them questions directly … never to be underestimated.