BY DENISE YAP
A full-out embrace of the modern, technological world on hyper speed. That’s probably the best way to describe Ryan Trecartin’s Re’Search Wait’S. Others have described it as a sensory overload to the extreme of a visual assault. I like to think of it as a mass media horror movie. Trecartin’s videos, supposedly scripted, and bearing something of a plot, are pretty much non-linear. The greatest binding elements are the crazy colours of body paint and sets, the manipulated high pitched annoying chipmunk-sounding over emphasized American accent (and one pseudo British one!), and the ‘poor image’ created with over-done editing.
Re’Search Wait’S actually does bear some sort of a plot. In about the one and a half hours it takes to view all four videos, this plot must have missed me. UbuWeb fills us in: Able (played by Lizzie Fitch) searches for subjects to use as part of her (or his?) marketing research. The rest of the video is supposed to show these subjects trying to advance their careers, playing into the agenda of Able. One of these subjects is Wait, played by Trecartin himself, who eventually decides to quit his (or her?) career (I had no clue he/she was pursuing one), but at the end we see him/her in a degenerated state. Wait gives us a curator’s tour of the art pieces in his possession – boards with multiple copies of different constitutional acts, and also, a bucket of water with random bits floating about, attempting to justify them as artworks… not too different from the game played between artists and critics.
Various slower interludes punctuate the videos, perhaps as prevention against heart attacks. In one there is a dream sequence, in another the video tells you outright to stop and take a break, and in the last video, we get song and dance. Ariel the Little Mermaid makes a guest performance as well, singing about the world where we walk, talk and stay in the sun while she spins a globe, dressed in a long red wig, a dry-fit sports top and some shorts. Sorry, no mermaid tail here.
Jessica has an imaginary friend who is her muse, yet bears a sinister control over her, calling her his “Jessica project”. When she tells him to go away, we are treated to the sight of what must be G-cup breasts jiggling about as their carrier laughs and wriggles about on the floor, and also she uses threats, giving the appearance of a relationship similar to The Phantom of the Opera tension between muse and artist.
The room where we watch these videos is filled mostly with Ikea furniture, except for some bleachers at the first video. There is a desk with mismatched chairs, and then a bare bed, and finally some sofas. None of these are actually comfortable for the length of the videos. Perhaps it is meant to provide a fake comfort – in the same way that Trecartin’s videos provide entertainment in an assaultive manner. Trecartin has often mentioned that he uses IKEA furniture for most of his sets, citing their “their ubiquity and faux-designery corporate blandness”.
Trecartin has said that his works are mainly about language. In some ways, it is the creation of a new language in the visual and audio sense. Voices no longer have any gender or individual personalities. They are blended into sameness. The dialogue, while grammatically sound for the most part, is disjointed and at times extremely hateful.
Different actors play the same character at different points. At one point, there is a switch between a male actor and a female actor playing the same character, wearing the same clothes and bearing similarly coloured hair (this is where Little Mermaid makes an appearance). In the credits, there were three different actors for the character of Jimmy (not that I really noticed).
Yet the strongest experience you take away from Trecartin’s work is the visuals. It is one that a generation that has no memory of a world without the internet can identify with, the language with which they experience information. Non-linear, over-saturated, over-balanced, over-done. In Rosemary Heather’s writing on Trecartin, she identifies the web as the hub where cultural activity takes place. This energy, present in our homes in the form of our computers, was lacking in the galleries, that is, until Trecartin cross-bred these opposite spheres of existence into artwork. Irony and sincerity, high-low and in-out. Trecartin sees himself as a transitional figure, and aims for a world where “people start seeing technology as us, as humanity, [then] our whole idea of what existence is, is going to shift.” YouTube is in the ‘hood of the galleries, yo.
The exchange of energy seems to go only one way, however. For an artwork that is made as a commentary on home-made video aesthetics, it seems ironic that other than stills, Re’Search Wait’S cannot be found online in any form (although there are other Trecartin works online). Even Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which represents Trecartin, lacks a downloadable press release about the work. It continues to exist within the traditional institutional walls of the gallery, not the free-flowing accessibility and mobility of the internet. It seems like a convenient overlook.
For an artist mainly dealing with the aesthetics of our virtual reality, the lack of a strong online persona is surprising. Other than a semi-updated Vimeo page and a YouTube account, there isn’t much else. It does come off as a betrayal of his message. But what exactly is his message? He definitely jumps right into the visuals, barrages us with an information overload in the same way that the internet does. He takes us to the extremes, and the result is entertaining and memorable, but not a pretty one. Perhaps the lack of an online persona is the result of his decision to remain disconnected from the virtual world as a critical statement on the substitution of physical communication virtualisation has led to.
Walking away from the installation, I am unsure what to feel. Besides having to take some time to recover from the sensory assault, I wonder if the length of the videos was necessary. Knowing the attention-deficit impatience of the cyber-generation, evidenced by the fact that I was the only one who stayed to view all videos in their entirety that day, one would expect shorter videos. If this fear of the overload is what he wanted to trigger, perhaps a room with projections on all four walls would be more effective, creating a sense of claustrophobia. At the end of it, does this installation even matter? It is likely that one day we’ll just be watching it at home on our computers. That is, if he finally decides to expand its existence to the internet.
Trecartin’s work leaves an impression, but not a very lasting one. Looking at A Family Finds Entertainment (2004), the first piece that catapulted him into success, the aftertaste is not too different from a work made five years later. One could argue that he is maintaining consistency; yet, does he bring anything new to the table that he has not already brought? Like a one-hit wonder, he seems to reuse his characters, sets, aesthetics and editing style to the point of the dilution of his own work. Young, beautiful, creative and successful… I wonder, for how long.