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Martine Syms is an artist, author, and conceptual entrepreneur. She lives in Pilsen, Chicago, where she moved for school and stayed for the opportun- ities. Here we talk to her about her work, her favorite things about the city, and her goal of making millions.

UO: Introduce yourself!

MS: My name is Martine Syms and I'm a conceptual entrepreneur. I'm originally from Los Angeles, California, and I live in Pilsen, a neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Chicago.

UO:Can you describe your neighborhood?

MS:Pilsen is an inexpensive, hip neighborhood. It's very pedestrian friendly. When I first moved here I was one of a few art school kids seeking cheap rents, now everyone and their mama lives here. It's nice because there are more bars and restaurants, but I can't walk around in a crazy get-up without being spotted by some cute girl.

UO: What are some of your other favorite neighborhoods?

MS: I love Hyde Park. I like to walk around the campus of the University of Chicago and pretend I'm a student. There I visit the Renaissance Society, the Smart Museum, and Seminary Co-Op Books. I almost forgot about Promontory Point—it's one of my favorite places in the entire city.

UO: How did you end up in Chicago?

MS: I moved to Chicago in 2005 to pursue a degree in Film, Video, and New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

UO: What was the School of the Art Institute of Chicago like?

MS: The campus is a series of skyscrapers and the classes are six hours long. I had a fantastic time there. It's very self-directed and you get whatever you put into it. I went down an experimental film wormhole and loved every minute of it. It was very challenging and sometimes I had no idea what I was doing, but that's what being an artist is like. My friends and I were all very serious about our practices; we didn't want our hands to be held. I learned how to think abstractly and how to be comfortable with uncertainty. Of course, if you talk to another SAIC alum, they'll tell you something complete different. That's the beauty of that school —you make your own experience.

UO: What made you want to stay in Chicago after you graduated?

MS: I wanted to do Golden Age. It was really simple. I had no reason to go back to Los Angeles. I was in Chicago and I had an idea. I also loved the city and didn't feel "done" with it. I wasn't ready to leave; I'd only lived here for two years.

UO: Tell us a little about Golden Age.

MS: For the past five years I was the co-director at Golden Age, a gallery dedicated to sharing ideas through exhibitions, performances and printed matter. Since 2007 I've presented over fifty dynamic, collaborative projects with an international community of artists, designers, writers and other passionate obsessives. I closed Golden Age at the end of 2011 and I'm very proud of the exhibitions we did that year.

UO: What about Chicago made a place like Golden Age possible?

MS: We were a part of a community in Chicago that is connected to the larger, international art world. There wasn't a space that reflected our interests, so we opened it. Our aesthetic is not the dominant style in Chicago, but anyone who was into the weird shit that we were into loved Golden Age.

UO: Tell us about some of your former projects.

MS: In May I completed Implications and Distinctions: Format, Content, and Context in Contemporary Race Film, a book that examines performances of blackness in mainstream cinema from 1990 to the present. I also created several artworks related to that research, one of which I performed at the Houston Museum of African American Culture and another piece that was included in the exhibition Alpha's Bet Ain't Over Yet at the New Museum in New York.

UO: What are you working on now?

MS: I'm starting Dominica, a publishing company focused on everyday cultural studies. My first release is by photographer David Hartt and will be available this fall. Since March I've been working on American Ritual, a documentary exploring what television does for us, and what it means to American culture.

UO: A lot of your work is based around culture and the media, where did that interest come from?

MS: I grew up in and around the entertainment industry. I was homeschooled and made my allowance as a reluctant child actor. I was a bad extra because I was too curious about the workings of production. I liked everything about being on set, except performing. I'm interested all of the aesthetic, moral and cultural values that are part of engaging in media because "media" is the primary context for discourse in American culture.

UO: Does Chicago influence your work at all?

MS: Chicago influences my work ethic. Chicago is a city where you keep your head down and you get shit done. I like ending my annual hibernation with two (or three, or four) new bodies of work—it's a great feeling. Chicago has made me a modernist, an industrialist; I have a new found appreciation for glass, steel and concrete. I also now say the phrase "I'll tell you that much" and I call people "buddy."

UO: What are some recent trends that you've seen in Chicago?

MS: I've noticed a lot of young things dressing like they're in the movie Hackers. I refer to them as "cyberpunks."

UO: How would you describe Chicago to someone who has never been there?

MS: Chicago is a true American city, with true American problems. Fourth of July is our sacred holiday; the city is drunk on patriotism and domestic beer. Each block is exploding with fireworks and emotion. You might get into a fistfight, burn a flag or fall in love.

UO: What are the best and worst things about living in Chicago?

MS: The best and worst thing about Chicago is that you can eat ten different types of pizza in a single day.

UO: What are the five must-see tourist spots?

MS: Art Institute of Chicago, cocktails at the Signature Room, Osaka Garden in Jackson Park, Promontory Point, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour.

UO: Where are the best places to see local art?

MS: The best local art is hard to find because it's exhibited in temporary, transitory spaces around the city. My favorite places with regular hours are Alderman Exhibitions, Roots & Culture, The Suburban and the newly opened Document.

UO: Where can we find you on the weekends?

MS: I spend a lot of time at the Harold Washington Library and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

UO: Complete the sentence: "Chicago would be nothing without ________"

MS: Patience.

UO: If you could eat at one restaurant in Chicago everyday, which would it be and what would you get?

MS: I would eat the farm egg with smoked potato puree at Green Zebra.

UO: Where is your favorite place to go in Chicago if you want to get away?

MS: I love riding my bike to the lake. I've never ridden the water taxi, but I think that would work as well. If it's cold, I go see a bad movie at the AMC River East and eat a bunch of samples at Fox & Obel across the street.

UO: If you could change one thing about Chicago what would it be?

MS: I would lower the sales tax.

UO: What are your plans for the future?

MS: Start a blog, become a consultant, make millions.

UO: If you had to pack up and leave Chicago tomorrow, what would you do today?

MS: I'd tell my friends to meet me at the Skylark.

Opening photo by Jessie Barber

To Eat

Green Zebra
1460 West Chicago Avenue
(312) 243-7100

The Publican
837 West Fulton Market
(312) 733-9555

Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato
Pies Bakery & Café
1844 West 95th Street
(773) 779-9105

J.P. Graziano
901 West Randolph Street
(312) 666-4587

Mario's Italian Lemonade
1066 West Taylor Street

To Drink

2149 South Halsted Street
(312) 948-5275

The Whistler
2421 North Milwaukee Avenue
(773) 227-3530

960 West 31st Street
(773) 890-0588

Rainbo Club
1150 North Damen Avenue
(773) 489-5999

Signature Room
875 North Michigan Avenue
(312) 787-9596

To Dance

Nite Moves at Danny's
1951 West Dickens
(773) 489-6457

Karaoke Thursdays at Martin's Corner
2056 West 22nd Place
(773) 847-5515

Chances at Subterranean
2011 West North Avenue
(773) 278-6600

Windy City Soul Club at Empty Bottle
1035 N Western Avenue
(773) 276-3600

Hubbard Street Dance Company
1147 West Jackson Boulevard
(312) 850-9744

To See

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
(312) 443-3600

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 East Chicago Avenue
(312) 280-2660

The Graham Foundation
4 West Burton Place
(312) 787-4071

West Loop Art Galleries

The Renaissance Society
5811 South Ellis Avenue
(773) 702-8670

To Shop

Village Discount Outlet
3301 West Lawrence Avenue
(773) 564-9310

I. Sachs Sons Inc
637 West Roosevelt Rd
(312) 666-0091

Maxwell Street Market
South Loop
Desplaines Street & Roosevelt Road
(312) 745-4676

Merz Apothecary
4716 North Lincoln Avenue
(773) 989-0900


Chicago Women's Health Clinic
3435 North Sheffield Avenue #206A
(773) 935-6126

Go Performance & Fitness
1001 West Adams Street
(312) 243-0001

Gene Siskel Film Center
164 North State Street
(312) 846-2600

Harold Washington Library
400 South State Street
(312) 747-4300

Textile Discount Outlet
2121 West 21st Street
(773) 847-0572


We asked Crystal Antonace, the Merchandising Team Leader at our Near North Side store, to spill about her favorite spots in Chicago. Crystal resides in Lakeview, a walk away from the lake and Wrigley Park ("During the summer I have to beg my friends to come over because the sidewalks are always full of drunk fraternity dudes and tourists. I love it though. It's very Chicago to me."), and spends her weekends scouring estate sales, brunching, and adding to her vintage collection. "In Chicago, smiling at strangers is pretty typical," she notes, "it's a huge city but it still has that Midwest, small town vibe." She loves hair metal paraphernalia from the '80s, unicorns, and Peter Max, so you know you can trust her on this!

To Eat

2803 West Chicago Avenue
(773) 489-4600
"Great American home cooking at its finest!"

Kuma's Corner
2900 West Belmont Avenue
(773) 604-8769
"Burgers and heavy metal together? They make a lovely union."

4712 North Broadway Street
(773) 506-1845
"Best sushi in Chicago. Plus the décor is out of control."

1927 West North Avenue
(773) 772-4422
"Best pizza and handcrafted beer."

Opart Thai
4658 North Western Avenue
(773) 989-8517

Harmony Grill
3159 North Southport Avenue
(773) 525-2508

To Drink

The Gingerman Tavern
3740 North Clark Street
(773) 549-2050
"Yes, it's cash only but it's an awesome local whiskey joint that has a lot of space and down-to-earth bartenders."

2771 North Lincoln Avenue
(773) 472-2771
"They have a 'Smiths Night'—need I say more?"

Revolution Brewing
2323 North Milwaukee Avenue
(773) 227-2739
"Cozy Atmosphere, great beer."

The Bar On Buena
910 West Buena Avenue
(773) 525-8665
"My favorite neighborhood bar and grill!"

To Dance

Beauty Bar
1444 West Chicago Avenue
(312) 226-8828
"If you're a sucker for glitter and '60s pop décor, go here!"

Hide Out
1354 West Wabansia Avenue
(773) 227-4433
"This place is super chill but the dancing livens things up on the weekends."

2350 North Clark
(773) 528-2622
"Electronic music all night long."

For Music

3159 North Southport Avenue
(773) 525-2508
"This is my favorite music venue because it's dark and has a comforting neighborhood feel. Harmony Grill is right next door if you want to grab dinner before a show."

Lincoln Hall
2424 North Lincoln Avenue
(773) 525-2501
"Lincoln Hall is the perfect size to see your favorite band. No matter where you sit or stand, you'll always have a good view."

2011 West North Ave
(773) 278-6600
"This place is small but the drinks are cheap and the place has an old historical feel that makes you want to come back."

To Shop

Belmont Army Vintage
855 West Belmont Avenue
4th Floor
(773) 549-1038
"This place doesn't advertise but they have amazing vintage at great prices."

1112 North Ashland Avenue
(773) 252-6996
"If you need your neon '80s fix, go here."

Dusty Groove Records
1120 North Ashland Avenue
(773) 342-5800
"This place has an awesome collection of movie soundtracks from the '60s and '70s."

Carlos and Sarah's Surplus of Options
3664 North Lincoln Avenue
(773) 827-1330
"This place is huge and they have everything from '50s dresses to old car parts."