Filling the Culture Can: Ryan Trecartin at PS1

Ready (Re'Search Wait'S), 2009-2010
HD Video, 26:50
Image courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York


Ryan Trecartin’s exhibition “Any Ever,” created in collaboration with artist Lizzie Fitch and on view at MoMA PS1 through Sept. 3, is one of those shows for which “over the top” is an understatement. When’s the last time you saw a museum show that came with its own feature-film-style trailer? Commanding 6,000 square feet of gallery space, featuring seven videos that add up to nearly four hours’ duration and what must be tons of Ikea furniture corralled into bizarre hybrid viewing environments, the show conveys the massive ambition of an artist just 30 years old but with a startlingly sophisticated take on the way we inhabit the new media landscape.

Three of the videos make up just one of Trecartin’s artworks, Trill-ogy Comp (2009); four more comprise Re’Search Wait’S (2009–10). While the videos are the same ones that were shown when “Any Ever” was on view at Ontario’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, the MoMA PS1 showing is the first time each has its own room, as well as the arranged furniture, which the artist calls “sculptural theaters.” These environments reference the videos’ archetypal architectural spaces—conference rooms, bedrooms or patios. But naturally, there are strange twists: in the first gallery one sees, outdoor furniture occupies a space lined by kitchen cabinets.

Plots in Trecartin’s videos are not easily legible; the artist told A.i.A. that most people begin to discern them only after about 10 viewings. Some feature outlandish scenarios, which the artist, in an introductory wall text, calls “social science fiction,” often involving virtual-reality scenarios the characters refer to as “premises.” Oddly, the virtual realities they inhabit often seem to mirror generic settings like hotel rooms and suburban homes.

In Sibling Topics (section a), from 2009, a pregnant character (Carryon Ova, played by Kristina Vecsesi) creates a time-capsule video message to her unborn quadruplets, foretelling her own death at the hands of her husband: “Speaking of how I see the future? Your dad’s the one that killed me. . . . But don’t worry! My death was really sexy. And ultra-tan.” For the characters in these videos, life and death matter only so much; appearance is all.

As they have since his earliest videos, made while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Trecartin’s characters wear kooky face paint and gender-blending costumes, and they babble in a distinctive patois. Spouting phrases like “identity tourism,” “personality shares” and “intellectual sexaganda,” they shrewdly capture the collapse of corporate and personal, advertisement and expression, in the YouTube age.

In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of Trecartin’s work is his distinctive use of language. A few lines of dialogue from just one video, Sibling Topics (section A), convey the artist’s ability to create evocative non sequiturs that hover right at the edge of meaning; that frighteningly sum up our hyper-speed life in the media age; and that are screamingly funny.

“I am tired of seeing him around my peripheral lifestyle options,” says Lee Kyle in his guise as Auto Baby. “She is always so automatic and un-re-write-able. . . . I have five mother figures on my desktop physically.”

“Mom, if you’re watching this, prepare to be bored,” says Ceader, one of the film’s four sisters, all played by Trecartin himself.

“I’m kind of joining the anti-history movement,” says P,T, (ITD), played by Brooklyn artist Caitlin Macbride.

“Motherfuckers! Where is my betrayal?!” says Ceader.

“I want an idea landfill somewhere far away from all my senses so that I can empty my culture can,” says Ceader.

As for what the future holds, Trecartin hopes to act in movies made by others, professing that he’s had plenty of directing himself. He is also transcribing the movies that make up “Any Ever”: “I want people to see that I’m passionate about linguistics, especially within the medium of movie-making. I’m very open to what I could do with them.”