Ryan Trecartin's films feel like a YouTube-based theatre of the absurd. They are oddly familiar amalgams of expressions, phrases and montages, bundled together and sped up into a full-scale sensory assault. Trecartin, a 28-year old video artist, has swiftly made a name for himself since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004. Featured in the mixed-bag show "The Generational: Younger Than Jesus" at the New Museum in New York City (which just closed on July 12th), his work was heralded as one of the "few magnetic stand-alone entries" by the New York Times and its "star" by Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker.
Although Trecartin’s videos employ dazzlingly outlandish colours, make-up, costumes and montage, his works are mystifyingly true to life, perhaps reflecting the world as we experience it through the internet. "Seeing it is like being patched into all of the computers in the world at once," observed Jerry Saltz in New York magazine.
Trecartin writes, directs and stars in these unorthodox, low-budget affairs, while his family members and artist friends assume the other roles. Here Trecartin discusses what influences his videos and installations, and the rationale behind his work.
More Intelligent Life: How do you conjure up the storylines for your videos?
Ryan Trecartin: It’s always different.
MIL: In your films there seems to be a lack of distinction between the genders.
RT: I see it less as a lack of distinction in binary terms and more as an exploration of territories within infinite gender creation, individualisation and specificity. I imagine this as a type of multiplex space. I’m often interested in realities where gender takes a back-seat to personality articulation. As people explore and expand into spaces that are not dependant on the body, but rather the mind, the construction and use of one's personality can become the most defining aspect to identify. And the thing I love about personality is that it can be added to, changed or re-worked at will, while not being classified or grouped very easily.
The relationship between consciousness of these personality progressions on an intuitive and dimensional level is very exciting to me. I see my characters exploring a technologically driven yet non-gender-centric psychologically complex transitional world which is inherently positive and energetic as opposed to neutral and formulaic. I’m very inspired by the tendency for transition to encourage creation rather than the act of subscribing to roles provided through gender, per se.
MIL: The characters in your videos often wear heavy, dramatic makeup and appear unrealistic. Why this choice of costume?
RT: I try to explore language as something that extends into every aspect of a presentation. And so when a character has a sentence, the sentence has position, body language, a palette of accents and face all being used equally to read meaning. The clothing, hair and makeup are then extensions or additional words to the person’s form or attempt to originate a read. This happens again with the editing and final affects. The whole piece is language and so the presentation of the face is an aspect of that language expressed. I don’t see it as dramatic, but more as in pace with the speed of thought expression.
MIL: In these films the pace seems set to hyperspeed. What affect are you hoping this has on the viewer?
RT: Yes, time is altered to enhance and encourage felt experience. The timing is manipulated to take the viewer into the piece enhancing a more ride-like digestion of the story, making the act of viewing a part of the piece. The timing comments on the current theme being experienced and explored in the current scene. It all depends on what moment of the piece you happen to be watching. And maybe the timing is a character that evolves and has it’s own “plot personality”.
MIL: Your video installations in the Younger Than Jesus show at the New Museum put the viewer in a room with furnishing that mirror the furnishings on screen. Is the room décor a critical aspect of the experience?
RT: The room is critical to that particular presentation. The work is meant to have many homes: movie theatre, home theatre, internet, computer, installation, party. These different homes bring out different aspects of the content and story and promote different experiences “reading” the work.
MIL: You have said that many of your works are collaborations with other artists; do they have an influence over your ideas and the final outcome of the videos?
RT: Every kind of collaboration possible pretty much happens in these movies. A large majority of the scenes are completely scripted, but there are some shoots that are more goal oriented. The structure of the script evolves in real time and experimentation always happens. Certain performers like Lizzie Fitch, Veronica Gelbaum, Telfar Clemens, Raul de Nieves, Alison Powell and Solomon Chase always go beyond the script into interpretation and improvisation. It all depends on the content of the scene, the agenda and the potential goals.
MIL: Your films often seem as if they are shot from a mobile phone or a handheld video camera rather than by a professional filmmaker. How do newer video technologies influence your work?
RT: Life has changed greatly since 1995 and so should the logic of storytelling and the look, structure and creation of the moving image. I use manners that relate and challenge current life, and that meditate on future possibilities. I would argue that the word professional is slowly becoming harder and harder to understand or evaluate.
~ WHITNEY FORD
Picture credit: Ryan Trecartin, composite image from Sibling Topics (Section A and Section B), 2009, single-channel video installation, sets and installation in collaboration with Lizzie Fitch, courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Installation view of Ryan Trecartin's work in "The Generational: Younger than Jesus" at the New Museum.