Interestingly, unlike with Arcangel, who leans toward a much more populist kind of art making, many find Trecartin’s videos nearly impossible to watch for any great length of time. The actors all talk in squeaky, child-like voices, suffer from rotting teeth, and only occasionally make sense. The plot—when it exists—is very hard to follow.
In a way, it’s a miracle this work took off at all given these attributes, but “A Family Finds Entertainment” and “I-Be Area” were more narrative than his later films, and that likely helped ease an audience into some of the more difficult work. Also, Trecartin’s herd of collaborators helped spread the word. If Warhol’s Factory could be reborn, one has the impression that Trecartin’s collaborative groups (located in cities across the country from New Orleans to Miami) would be the form it took today.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Trecartin has produced a remarkably consistent body of work over the last seven years. His aesthetic—or “branding,” as the art world is so reluctant to describe it—is so distinct that no viewer can forget the work. Arguably, the earlier work can be more off-the-cuff than the new videos—often the actors were untrained, and everyone was encouraged to ad-lib—but the artist’s dexterity with words remains unchanged. “Why aren’t you documenting me?,” “I party alone!” and personal favorites like, “I hate this piece of wood!” are just a few choice quotes to come out of the early films.
The storylines themselves are bleak: in “A Family Finds Entertainment,” a boy named Skippy gets kicked out of his parent’s house after revealing his sexual preference, attempts suicide, is run over by a car, and is then saved by a group of flamboyant kids. “I-Be Area” offers a little more optimism with its malfunctioning characters stuck inside a blog space/internet-community/bedroom—eventually they find ways to be creative, so it seems worth the wait.
By the time Trecartin gets to Any Ever, though, it’s hard to endure more than thirty minutes at a time (despite an array of comfy seating options for each film ranging from office chairs to beds). “This place is full of rich identity tourists,” complains one worker in “K-CoreaINC.K (section a),” a video featuring characters whose jobs seem to be defined by spewing out mutant corporate speak infused with internet jargon. In another video, “Sibling Topics (section a),” Trecartin plays four siblings, one of whom complains, “I’m sick of my outfits coming from default closet.” Here, as in many other places, the individual scenes feel more like discrete channels in a larger network.
Perhaps a more Web 2.0 way of looking at the seven-film exhibition is to say that its structure resembles the results of a Google search. There’s some linear coherence to the narratives, in the same way one might find structure in a query. It’s dominated, however, by style: over-repetition and buzz words (spoken and written) permeate the movies. Add to this broken bed frames, flammable liquids, scissors, cell phones, shattered glass, mirrors and fucked-up makeup and you’ve got merely the backbone of Trecartin’s baroque visual vocabulary. Any Ever thus becomes an ornate version of this search query.
In that sense Trecartin’s show may at least reflect the hype that surrounds it: frantic and warped. It does not, however, live up to it. That’s not because the movies aren’t very good, or don’t engage the net, but rather that somewhere along the line, Trecartin’s message got lost. It’s as if he’s contacting his audience to tell them their phonelines are broken and can’t be fixed, and we’ve responded by celebrating the progress communication has brought.
(Images courtesy Cory Arcangel and Team Gallery; Ryan Trecartin and Elizabeth Dee Gallery)