In time for Frieze Los Angeles, Prada Mode — the Italian house’s traveling activation — came to L.A. for a two-day takeover of Genghis Cohen.
“I wouldn’t expect Prada here,” said a guest of the kitschy Chinese eatery and part-time music venue — opened in 1983 and now operated by Hollywood’s Spare Room team.
The unexpected is exactly what Prada was looking to unveil at the event, where artist Martine Syms presented “HelLA World.”
“When they asked me to do the project, I was really excited to do something that felt like L.A.,” said Syms, an L.A. native. The event — in its seventh iteration following stops in Miami, London, Paris and Hong Kong — marked a continuation of her relationship with the brand, having previously collaborated with Prada. “I wanted to address the experience of being in the city. I liked the unruliness of it.”
“Members,” as Prada dubbed its guests on the invite, were welcomed to dine at the eatery from noon until evening, when a talk was held each day. Then came the “club hours,” when a DJ took over at 10 p.m. By 11 p.m. on Day One, a crowd formed outside, with many unable to get in due to capacity restrictions. Those who did make it — into the outdoor space of the restaurant — had to then confront another barrier to make it indoors.
Syms’ installation captured it all: wanderers mingling, posing and taking selfies, looking to make their way in. Both the interior and exterior showcased cameras and videos, allowing for a voyeuristic gaze — and self-introspection — amid the party atmosphere.
“People can DM me right now,” Syms said of the screens inside, displaying text on loop via messages received on her Instagram, @diminicapublishing. Rashida Jones, Gabrielle Union, Jeff Goldblum, Damson Idris, Milla Jovovich, Ella Balinska and Storm Reid were among the familiar faces who made it out.
“It’s almost like a shoutout board,” she continued. “Or we can have a conversation. There’s a loose narrative running through the text part. And then having this surveillance of the party is another side of that. I’ve always been captivated by this Andy Warhol quote — which is so cheesy, but I’m going to say it anyway — where he talked about how he wished he never had to go out but could just watch a TV show that’s different parties and then feel like you were there and you knew who was there. It’s kind of what we’ve been doing through the pandemic. I found all those Zoom parties really depressing, but I like the idea of having a party and then still having this kind of screen interface. I can change the framing and move the camera, follow someone around.”
It was her first time working in this type of setting, she said.
Earlier — in an elevated outdoor area transformed into a “library,” with books lined up on display — Syms had a sit-down chat with artist and poet Diamond Stingily, artist and filmmaker Garrett Bradley and filmmaker Daisy Zhou, moderated by the Hammer Museum’s associate curator Erin Christovale. Victoria Siddall, board director of Frieze, gave opening remarks. The following day, the conversation was with Sarah E. Lewis, associate professor at Harvard University’s department of History of Art & Architecture and African & African American Studies.
While discussing her debut feature film, “The African Desperate” (showing at festivals and out later this year), Syms voiced her frustration with the movie industry today, bringing up a term she coined: “Nu American Cinema.”
“Nu American Cinema, my battle cry,” she said with a laugh following the chat. “There’s been some amazing films I’ve seen, but in general, I’ve been really disappointed with a lot of what I’ve seen lately, because there’s no space for experimentation. There’s a lot of assumptions about what people want and what would make money and blah blah blah. That’s why kids are f–king watching YouTube and TikTok, because it’s so much more interesting. Those kinds of practices have always influenced my art, and as I’ve moved into making long-form feature films and narrative films, I don’t feel beholden to the same conventions. It’s a way of saying, you know, in the ’70s there was a renaissance of American filmmaking and what people called New American Cinema, so I’ve been calling this N.U., like nu metal. It’s time for Nu American Cinema.”
She went on: “We’re in a similar place, economically, politically. There’s so much change happening. How come we’re not seeing that visually? How come we’re being given the same stories? And even the stories that are supposed to be different are not. It’s the same story, just now there’s maybe a person of color at the center of it, maybe. I want more than that. I want more of that for myself, expansiveness and expression.”