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Disjoint realities: Ryan Trecartin and Leigh Ledare

By Mike Brennan

Ryan Trecartin

Ryan Trecartin (left) - if you believe the hype - is the young American who has finally hauled the 21st century into the art arena.

His video works, performed by himself and a cast of outlandishly costumed friends, display all the hallmarks of a technology-driven, media-saturated age.

Chaotically fragmented narratives are played out with warp-speed dialogue; cheesy, out-of-the-box digital effects meet soundtracks that bleep with the insistence of ringtones.

As "... a new cinematic language that reflects the way we use the internet", Trecartin's practice embraces the digitised logic of our computer and gaming screens. His work is made by, and for, a generation for whom a large part of everyday reality is essentially electronic.

"Both in form and in function, Ryan Trecartin’s video practice advances understandings of post-millennial technology, narrative, and identity, while also propelling these matters as expressive mediums. His work depicts worlds where consumer culture and interactive systems are amplified to absurd or nihilistic proportions and characters circuitously strive to find agency and meaning in their lives."

As such comments might infer, adjusting to Trecartin's revved up, sensory tsunami can prove a bewildering, not to mention exhausting, experience. In certain respects, however, his artistic terrain is far from unfamiliar.

Ryan Trecartin
Ryan Trecartin - I-Be Area, film still

His work, for example, neatly aligns itself with recent neo-narrational art practice in which narrative is privileged via spoken and / or textual word alongside various other modes of largely non-pictorial narration.

For Trecartin, this aspect of his work is especially important, explicitly including props, gesture, costumes and face-paint: "I try to explore language as something that extends into every aspect of a presentation... The whole piece is language."

In addition, the lo-fi production values and anarchic exuberance of his work are often compared to early John Waters, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley (Trecartin claims that these names have evaded him entirely, but having graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004, his apparent impermeability to art world antecedents seems slightly mysterious).

Yet despite such striking - if unintentional - echoes of major forerunners, there's plenty to Trecartin's work that's undeniably fresh, as well as strikingly representative of its time.

His characters' verbal narration - a kind of hi-energy newspeak - provides one of the most compelling examples, with technology frequently referenced in a stream of jumbled exclamations and non-sequiturs: "I've been trying to do a music search all day"; "Is he my phonecall or a nightmare baby?"; "Your life but better, with edits! With edits!"

Voices are accelerated into squeals of munchkin-ese or pumped up with reverb; certain phrases, for no very apparent reason, are chanted in mounting crescendo like an eerily displaced Greek chorus.

The welter of stimuli is compounded by the visuals themselves. Jumpcuts and break-neck editing destabilise and disconcert. 'Avatars' emanate, phantom-like, from characters with multiple identities, while garish background graphics are punctuated by on-screen textual proclamations.

Ryan Trecartin
Ryan Trecartin - P.opular (section ish) (2009)

In the recent P.opular (section ish) 2009 (left), payment options float periodically across the screen, an absurd invitation to buy into the mayhem. Trecartin is also increasingly inclined to refer to the technologies of his own film-making through flurried glimpses of the digicam or shots of editing software.

"When YouTube came around, it gave a better understanding of how people are using technology differently now… so that the director is no longer just behind-the-camera but is also a part of the front-of-camera now. It's easiest to think in terms of those teenage-bedroom YouTube videos."

With storylines, in short, barely legible in any conventional sense, the effect is overwhelmingly extempore, a disjoint (to borrow web design's own terminology) reality that lurches from position to position like a piecemeal surfing of the internet.


Disjoint realities, continued >

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