Art

Narration Is The Devil: Ryan Trecartin’s Any Ever @ PS1

Global Korea, the jet-setting corporate diva from K-CoreaINC.K (section a) (captured by author)

Discussion of Ryan Trecartin’s work usually brims with a recurring set of buzz words: nonlinear, hyperactive, cut-up, frenetic. Any Ever, the Los Angeles-based artist’s latest exhibition at MoMA PS1, retains the psychedelic schtick that characterizes earlier works but adds higher production values and an expanded cast of actors.

The exhibition is comprised of seven films divided into a diptych. The first section, Trill-ogy Comp (2009), contains “Sibling Topics (section a),” “P.opular S.ky (section ish)” and “K-CoreaINC.K (section a).” The second, Re’Search Wait’s (2009-2010), features “Ready,” “The Re’Search,” “Roamie View: History Enhancement” and “Temp Stop.” Each video is played on loop in its own room, surrounded by installations constructed from props used during the filming — conference tables, airplane seats, gym equipment, luggage and patio furniture. An ambient score composed by Trecartin plays throughout the space. Viewers must don a pair of headphones in order to hear the actual audio from the videos. I originally hoped to experience the new works on a full sound system, but the noise would have interfered with screenings in the adjacent rooms. With only a limited number of headphones per room, some viewers needed to wait their turn. The muted affectations of the characters on the screen looked quite eerie without the accompanying audio.

"Still from Ready" (captured by author)

Are You Finding Position? It’s Such A Hunt

Trecartin’s usage of language in Any Ever is particularly striking, more than the sight of the painted genderqueer characters one expects to see in his work. Although nonlinear, the language deployed isn’t entirely decontextualized, nor does it completely avoid the “devil” of narration as described by one character in “P.opular S.ky.” The films are rife with disjointed references to family, history, identity crises, time travel, threatened mergers, investment strategizing, “transumerism” and “experiential database research.” Speech functions as a series of “identity storage units,” to quote from “K-Corea,” an assemblage of accents, sentence fragments, phrases, and non sequiturs. The viewer is left to position herself amid the chaos and navigate the linguistic cues in her own way.

Trecartin’s work is heavily scripted, and the technologically-mediated universe that’s spoken into being by his characters doesn’t seem too far removed from Googlisms or Flarf poetry, where the bowels of cyberspace constitute the building blocks for textual sculpture. In the span of a few minutes, one encounters Valley Girl-isms, Spanish, British English, netspeak, inside jokes, mashed up song lyrics, gay slang, and corporate jargon. Artifice is adopted as a virtue while on the search for meaningful human relationships. Everything is designable, reprogrammable. “I totally cry real tears,” says one teen character in “Re’Search,” “I just haven’t designed them yet.” Heavily pitch-shifted voices and character names like Wait, Ready, Global Korea, and Adobe blur conventional markers of gender identity. Queer vernaculars and affectations are everywhere, but they don’t seem too transgressive when you recognize that queerness is the norm in Trecartin’s universe. There are many amusing, seemingly theoretical one-liners:

I love learning about myself through other people’s products

I can make a for-profit non-profit look sexy and totally reasonable

Did you cancel our father network yet?

Male was just a cute idea

I’m finally just an ‘as-if’

Once I have a monopoly, I’m gonna rebrand him

I can’t wait ’til the internet declares its independence

I wanna beat someone up, I wanna shoot a boy in the head, and I wanna throw my automatic sister in a blender

I really wanna fucking deepthroat her vibe-or us

This is reality TV on acid. The language here is as rapid and malleable as the lives of the characters. Dialogue sounds more like a series of competing soliloquies, all histrionically directed at the camera. The characters love to talk and are desperate for affirmation, whether it’s the teenage girls of “Re’Search” plotting their music careers, or JJ from “Roamie View,” a lonely figure who seeks to rewrite history and plasters his wall with palimpsests and cut-ups of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Each repeat viewing of the work is a kind of rewriting in itself. The work is open enough so that a viewer may reorganize all the disparate stimuli she’s been given with each new view.

Any Ever is on view at PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens) until September 3.

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