RALPH WYDES slips into the depths and shallows of Ryan Trecartin’s latest New York exhibition.
What, or who, is it in Ryan Trecartin’s movies that pulls you upside down, like a cartoon bully, and shakes the sensibilities out of your tight jeans pockets?
Surprisingly, It’s pop-culture.
The MoMA/PS1 exhibition in Long Island City, New York of Trecartin’s Any Ever, a series of 7 movies produced collaboratively since 2007, calls the devil out from daytime TV and sets her loose on corporate boardrooms, suburban bedrooms, and wholesome outdoor eateries. Each video, or segment, has a corresponding environment (the exceptional, mixed up furniture is designed with Trecartin’s long-time aide-de-camp, Lizzie Fitch) cast in a dramatic, multi-hued, Dario Argento glow. The decor places the viewer inside the discombobulating realm of his videos. Unnerving details like a long, rectangular mirror placed beneath a long, rectangular table in a room lit only by video projection, are really startling. Yet, like the videos themselves, each room persistently feels like you have seen it before, they exist in the collective experience of pre-fab housing, global restaurant chains, and the passing of auratic objecthood.
Trecartin’s work closely mimes the phases of his own American (he was born in Webster, Texas in 1981 and grew up in Ohio) adulthood. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 making videos that exorcised grand themes through the angst driven bacchanal of post-adolescence. Now, he seems to be dealing with working life. Trill-ogy Comp (a trilogy) and Re’Search Wait’S (a quartet) the two main sections of Any Ever, depict the casual conversations, romantic spats, business meetings, and orgiastic parties of angry tween stars, office-workers, and other archetypes of our kinetic, infonomics driven universe. Enhanced by make-up and moving lucidly through sexual identities these characters violate mass-media’s copyright on individuality. Trecartin, his family, and his friends star in many of the roles. In the iteration at PS1 (the show has traveled from Los Angeles to Toronto and recently opened in Miami), headphones draped over headboards, armrests, or hooks drilled into altered Ikea furniture are the only way to listen to the jarring aural world of the videos – otherwise, the huge projections flicker silently and colorfully to a spare and moody audio track reverberating throughout the sequence of rooms.
Inside of the exhibition you are enwrapped in surface. Painted with make-up, playing non-stop dress-up, and strained through After Effects, Trecartin’s personalities are a facade. You come to miss the taken-for-granted depth of ingrained concepts like gender, race, sexuality, and narrative. You want to dismiss the content of the work as you are violently distracted by the vibrating, disrespectful tableau. What adheres his disposable pigments to the surface of the brain is a honed use of burbling, angry language. At the beginning of The Re’Search, a luchador mask wearing, sultry-voiced being of indeterminate gender states, “I love when I’m on vacation, could somebody please zipper me up, ohhh” before twirling lackadaisically into a backyard swimming pool. Later, a chorus of girl-band wannabes echoes “I don’t share time slots–y’all bitches can wait.” There is a studied reiteration of vernaculars drawn selectively from the contemporary tower of Babel: white-collar banter, tourist pidgin, SMS, and reality-TV. The carefully scripted vocabulary of his dialogue is what gives breath to the hyper-conscious superficiality of the visuals.
In his Vimeo interview as the avatar “Paul,” Trecartin remarks, “I try to explore language as something that extends into every aspect of a presentation.” The constant stream of comments and counter-comments merges with the visuals (occasionally, a carefully timed text block or blown up phrase like “Don’t Feel Examplized” appears on-screen) and makes for an experience that simultaneously cuts apart and calls for the insensitivity with which we often react to cultural inundation.
“Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever” is on until 3rd September 2011 at MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens, New York City.
In addition to the formal exhibitions of this work it is available on Vimeo and Youtube, as has been Trecartin’s wont since the undergraduate debut of his hilarious, A Family Finds Entertainment in 2004: http://vimeo.com/search/videos/search:ryan%20trecartin/st/07bd2823
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