Thursday, 27 November 2014

Ryan Trecartin's party at the end of the world

I'm not a fan of London, but I sometimes go there and find things I like. So, after losing my personal space to a crush of people in a Christmas shopping frenzy, having the hills replaced with high buildings and hammered with rain, and having my eyes poked out by advertising stuck to every possible surface, by insurance companies and graffiti artists, I finally found myself at the Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin solo show at the Zabludowicz gallery. It was horrific.

I'm new to Fitch and Trecartin's work so had no preconceptions as I entered a derelict seated area decorated with the odd disposable frat-party beer cup or cheerleader's jumper. I dutifully popped on a set of headphones and sat before a huge video screen. And that was it.

The headphones swallowed me and my eyes were burnt out by an MTV-style sensory assault. Cut-off from the world, I was a voyeur to what appeared to be drunken, screaming, men and women dressed as teenagers, who barely said a meaningful sentence. It was disorientating and captivating. I felt like a deer in the headlights. It was a familiar format, like a mangled reality TV program, gameshow or Hollywood horror movie. It was an annoying, blabbering, hypnotic and tiresome vortex into which your senses were dragged, drowned and over saturated. You became bloated by the onslaught - a kind of intense void weighing you down into your couch potato sofa. It was impossible to leave and it never seemed to start, or end, or go anywhere, and yet I was compelled to continue to watch and watch.

Item Falls, 2013 from Ryan Trecartin on Vimeo.

The editing was extreme, with highs - moments of camera waving and quick cuts from face to face, to manic action, to screaming and laughing - and momentary lows - slow motion movements and pitched-down voices that suddenly get vaulted back up to hyper speed. It was like watching Big Brother if all the sentences that made sense were stripped out. Occasionally a phrase would be repeated which seemed to make it significant. Whole monologues were dedicated to talk about chickens, so you started wondering what the relevance of chickens were, a connection you naturally make in your mind in trying to make sense of the madness. It reminded me of product placement or popular radio, where repeat exposure starts to build a familiarity and makes something seem relevant in an world of unimportance.

I liked the fact that these were not teenagers - these were grown-up teenagers who hadn't learnt. I also liked the overlapping audio - like one sound source wasn't enough. There was audio played in the gallery, more audio in the headphones and the editing blended non-descript modern music styles over speech, over shouting, over an impromptu song or rant.

The show actually contains 4 videos and a title sequence, none of which I could sit all the way through. Interestingly one of them is documentary and shows Trecartin's [at the time] teenage peers getting drunk, puking and doing this kind of thing for real - the source, it seems, of much of his inspiration.

CENTER JENNY, 2013 from Ryan Trecartin on Vimeo.

I'm a little surprised by what's been written on Trecartin's work as much is made of the storylines that these videos seem to have - apparently they are scripted and are well characterised, some show a future post-human race who are 'animations' auditioning to to be a 'Jenny' or to be in a boy band, and who want to go up a level to reach level CENTER, but for me the most striking thing about the work was that it was so familiar yet unnerving, when you consider our pointless and nauseating media-oriented lives, image-obsession, hedonism and celebrity worship. It's like the party at the end of the world.

I'm sure there must be a lot written on Fitch/Trecartin's work that talks about youth culture, media and sexualisation but for me it struck a chord played out by endless internet information, rooms of blaring TVs, churning gambling machines, escapist gaming consoles, hazy nightclubs and torchlight mobile phones and our struggle to cope and make sense of it all. I felt it kind of summed up this mad modern life we're stuck in. It was emblematic of a world with too much stuff in it and little of it relevant : a relentless tide everyday in which we are always bobbing along, not knowing which way dry land is, or even if you want to get there. Maybe it's how our kids will grow up, maybe it's a vision of heaven, or maybe it's just city living.

The show runs until the 21st of December at Zabludowicz Collection, 176 Prince of Wales Road, London, NW5 3P
More of the videos here

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