The term ‘post-internet art’ has emerged in recent years to acknowledge the profound impact hyper-connectedness, abundance of information and collective conversation has on our lives, subjectivities and art. It groups together artistic practices clearly influenced by the proliferation of the internet into everyday life. Although it is a contested term, little-loved by many artists associated with it, and a confusing one (at first suggesting art created after the end of the internet, rather than that ushered in by the arrival of web 2.0), it has a certain usefulness.
Of the many artists associated with post-internet art who are ‘digital natives’,1‘Digital native’ refers to someone who has grown up in an age where digital technologies are ubiquitous, as opposed to ‘digital immigrants’ (Marc Prensky, ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, On the Horizon, MCB University Press, vol. 9, no. 5, Oct. 2001). Ryan Trecartin (born 1981, United States) is one of the most lauded. The narratives and editing of his moving-image works – which he refers to as ‘movies’, in defiance of the widely adopted terms ‘videos’ or ‘films’ – question traditional film and television programs and the ways such material is consumed and navigated by a generation raised with the internet, multiple screens and communication devices ever present. This is achieved in part by the aesthetic character of Trecartin’s movies, which often employ cacophony as a guiding and structural principle: the acting, editing, sound and sets are constantly in excess and operate at a high-pitched register echoing that of the information age. In this cacophony, digital natives see a representation of themselves and their everyday lives, while older ‘digital immigrants’ recognise the technological clamour that has come to surround them; Trecartin’s movies reflect each group’s experience to some degree.
Other crucial aspects of Trecartin’s practice have contributed to his recognition within this conceptual milieu. The sheer ambition of his movies is immediately striking, but never feels driven by a sense of singular achievement. There is the sense of the ensemble at work in them, in the tradition, unconsciously or not, of filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Paul Morrissey (at least while working with Andy Warhol), John Waters or Pedro Almodovar.2 While each of these directors worked regularly with returning cast members, their films also contributed to a queering of cinema, and in this sense are in a continuum with those of Trecartin. While Trecartin writes the scripts (along with acting in, filming, editing and sometimes scoring the resultant movies), his creative practice is enfolded with that of artist Lizzie Fitch. Trecartin and Fitch have been collaborating since they were first-year students of Rhode Island School of Design in 2001, when Trecartin majored in Film/Animation/Video and Fitch in Painting. They formed a production studio together in Los Angeles and see their relationship as central to the creation of Trecartin’s movies. When exhibited as video installations, these ‘sculptural theatres’ are co-credited to both artists. Filled with bland carpet of the type found in cheap office renovations, and populated by quasi-designer flat pack furniture, the sculptural theatres mimic the bland ubiquity of the movies’ environments, complete with various props that appear in or are implied by them.3 Featured in the exhibition Ryan Trecartin: Re’Search Wait’S at NGV is the unique sculptural theatre Available Sync 2011, which acts as the central space and nucleus of the show. This recent acquisition was created by Fitch and Trecartin to house The Research (Re’Search Wait’S) 2009-10, and is made up of lounge room furniture and various tools, many of which appear in the more destructive scenes of the movie. The inclusion of piles clothes, and handbags under each chair or sofa’s foot, speaks to the undercurrents of consumerism and fashionability, which are played out by the tween-aged subjects.
The scale of Trecartin’s undertakings also immediately set them apart from other work that engages a kind of ‘internet sensibility’. The Re’Search Wait’S series, 2009–10, presented at the National Gallery of Victoria in Trecartin’s first Australian solo exhibition, is one part of the project Any Ever, a diptych comprising seven autonomous but interrelated videos. The other part, Trill-ogy Comp., consists of the three works K-CoreaINC.K (section a), Sibling Topics (section a) and P.opular S.ky (section ish), while Re’Search Wait’S comprises four movies: Ready, The Re’Search, Roamie View : History Enhancement and Temp Stop. Whereas a certain visual mashup aesthetic characterises the montage technique employed by Trecartin in this series – similar to having multiple windows open on a computer, replete with computer effects, plug-ins and animated transitions – there exists a tension between the cut-and-paste, slapdash and disordered approach this connotes and the highly considered work required to create the sets, choreograph the scenes, direct the actors and crew and produce the scripts underpinning the seven movies.
The performances, too, provoke this tension, at first coming across as improvised due to their manic delivery and the mix of trained and untrained actors, but quickly recognisable as highly scripted in Trecartin’s very particular, punning language: a patois of text messages, ASCII art and corporate brand sloganeering. When viewed in written form4 The script for K-CoreaINC.K (section a) is available online as part of the UbuWeb ‘Publishing the Unpublishable’ series: . the text’s link to concrete poetry is clear, about which Brian Droitcour has written persuasively in the journal Rhizome. Droitcour is at pains to point out the difference between Trecartin’s generative approach and the pure appropriation of found words and phrases:
Trecartin’s writing responds to the internet, but it defies an assertion made by Kenneth Goldsmith, poet and founder of UbuWeb, who wrote that flarf5 Flarf is an avante-garde form of poetry utilising the results of random internet search terms to hilarious and sometimes disturbing effect. and conceptual poetry are the quintessential poetic responses to the digital age because they employ cut-and-paste techniques.
Droitcour asserts that this approach results in poetry by Goldsmith that, while often humorous, is ‘so sterile, it’s unreadable’, and that his technique of reconstituting nonsense phrases from found linguistic scraps ‘petrifies genre and meaning with it’.6 Brian Droitcour, ‘Making word: Ryan Trecartin as poet’, 27 July 2001, Rhizome, , accessed 18 April 2015.
Sterile is one thing Trecartin’s movies are not. Rather than the unordered (or randomly reconstituted) nature of the cut-and-paste aesthetic, his work engages a multiplicity that mimics and extends the sense of the internet as being an experience of information overload and noise, with various commentaries vying for the viewer’s attention. Flame wars in internet chatrooms, long-running hoaxes on multi-authored wikis, a teenage girl’s weekly YouTube program fictionalising her home-schooled life,7 My thanks to my eight-year-old daughter for this reference to the YouTube channel SevenSuperGirls,. endless viral attempts to remake the Harlem Shake dance style and performing tweens practising virtually anything in front webcams are now all very contemporary, narcissistic and neurotic phenomena. Re’Search Wait’S presents the legacy of such present-day activity, the movies’ gossiping, sniping discourse interspersed with karaoke-like performances to form a picture resembling the confessional, or talent-spruiking, personal webcam diaries of teens in ‘real life’ (with the intensity of a hyperactive child off their Ritalin).
Trecartin’s plotlines are not so much convoluted as they are polyphonic and fragmentary, embodying the nature of the internet itself. There can be multiple viewpoints, text and stock footage vying together on screen at the same time, cutting in and out in different rhythms. Characters’ voices from different scenes talk in unison, or in staccato counterpoint, at different speeds and pitches. Dramatically, we often do not see cause, only effect. When first encountering the movies, the plot can be difficult to grasp for these reasons, but they reward immersion and multiple viewing. Most of Trecartin’s movies are available on the internet, which allows them to be grazed by viewers in their own time, and the works’ spacious, immersive installation in the gallery offers a chance for non-contiguous viewing; the physical act of moving from one to the other acting as a form of editing. Rather than diminishing the experience of the work, dipping in and out of it in a non-linear way merely reaffirms its structural logic at odds with the traditional linear cinema experience.
The filmic content of Re’Search Wait’S has largely been discussed as non-linear and either difficult to watch in a ‘traditional’ way, or as a direct challenge to that mode of watching.8 ‘The maximalist exuberance of Trecartin’s films render them impossible to watch, as we understand it. We focus our attention on a particular screen-area, and, in doing so, edit our engagement with the artwork’ (Patrick Langley, ‘Ryan Trecartin: the real internet is inside you’, April 2012, The White Review, , accessed 23 July 2014. The movies certainly have qualities that reoccur, with characters reappearing throughout, sometimes played by different actors, and there are some basic continuous aspects across the plotlines of the works. If one watches them in order, a through-line of experience for some characters is undeniable, even at times if it seems to the characters themselves that they are living in infinite loops.
The characters played by Trecartin, in particular Wait and JJ (in their range of manifestations), undergo the greatest physical and linguistic transformations. We are introduced to Wait in the first scene of Ready, as he struggles with the after-effects of too many ‘conceptual drugs’ – products that involve adopting personalities wholesale. This constant state of becoming is, of course, exhausting (physically and metaphysically). When we meet JJ in Ready he has a radiant golden glow, vital as he paints his canvases. By the time we reach Roamie View : History Enhancement, however, JJ is a husk, totally spent, like an ecstasy user out of serotonin. He is desperate enough to hire Roamie (played by Alison Powell) to travel back in time to attempt to change the past and thus improve his future-present trajectory. This flight of fancy is important to locate, because at its heart this series is science fiction projecting a future constituted by the complex logic of the internet and our highly malleable subjectivities. This logic is not unordered, or even disordered, but contains simultaneous orders waxing and waning in influence.
It is clear that Re’Search Wait’S does not depict but embodies this swarming order. Characters often seem lost, in a pubescent kind of way, hysterical through fear and loathing, love and longing. The anxiety of ‘work’ and ‘career’ looms large, but control over this aspect of their lives feels opaque, even for a character as narcissistic and power-hungry as Y-Ready (played wonderfully throughout by Veronica Gelbaum). ‘When I send you a winking emoticon, it doesn’t mean something fun, it means I’m hoping for a serious injury, followed by a mild Vicodin addiction, followed by a Vicodin withdrawal, followed by you getting me a latte’, Y-Ready spits in Temp Stop. Although she delivers this gem to the camera, it is unclear who exactly it is addressed to. Throughout the movies, characters carry mobile telephones but regularly talk directly to camera in a mode of address often found in vblogs or video selfies posted on social media; that is to say, directed to everyone, no-one and themselves at once. This leads to a hazy ontology of communication within the movies, and a confusion of the roles of performer, character and viewer.
Incidentally, when Roamie and her entourage travel back in time (possibly to the early 2000s) they happen upon a teenage band, The Dimensional Asterisks, practising in their garage. These boys have absolutely no point of reference for visitors from the future, and can interpret little of what the girls say or about what’s going on around them. It is a subtle, grounding moment in the series that amplifies the chaos of the movies’ future-present even more. This past is a contrast to the world we have been navigating, with its decentred nature and lack of fixity. Any attempt to clarify, categorise or delineate the world of Re’Search Wait’S is to misunderstand profoundly its ordering principles, as profoundly as these girls from the future confuse these boys from the past.
Through their form as well as their content, the Re’Search Wait’S movies directly engage some of the most noted effects of the internet and social media on our lives and ways of being: the changing relationship between the individual and the collective; the global advancement of corporate brand consolidation (at the expense of diversity); rampant commodification; and the fluidity of identity. The manner in which Trecartin, with his collaborators, has fused these in the Re’Search Wait’S series as a future projection of the information age marks it as a post-internet artwork par excellence, being ‘about’, ‘of’, and ‘meta-’ these effects (and affects) simultaneously. In it we encounter the mutated embodiment of tomorrow’s promise, today.
Simon Maidment, Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2015)
1 ‘Digital native’ refers to someone who has grown up in an age where digital technologies are ubiquitous, as opposed to ‘digital immigrants’ (Marc Prensky, ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, On the Horizon, MCB University Press, vol. 9, no. 5, Oct. 2001).
2 While each of these directors worked regularly with returning cast members, their films also contributed to a queering of cinema, and in this sense are in a continuum with those of Trecartin.
3 Featured in the exhibition Ryan Trecartin: Re’Search Wait’S at NGV is the unique sculptural theatre Available Sync 2011, which acts as the central space and nucleus of the show. This recent acquisition was created by Fitch and Trecartin to house The Research (Re’Search Wait’S) 2009-10, and is made up of lounge room furniture and various tools, many of which appear in the more destructive scenes of the movie. The inclusion of piles clothes, and handbags under each chair or sofa’s foot, speaks to the undercurrents of consumerism and fashionability, which are played out by the tween-aged subjects.
4 The script for K-CoreaINC.K (section a) is available online as part of the UbuWeb ‘Publishing the Unpublishable’ series: <http://www.ubu.com/ubu/unpub/Unpub_046_Trecartin.pdf>.
5 Flarf is an avante-garde form of poetry utilising the results of random internet search terms to hilarious and sometimes disturbing effect.
6 Brian Droitcour, ‘Making word: Ryan Trecartin as poet’, 27 July 2001, Rhizome, <http://rhizome.org/editorial/2011/jul/27/making-word-ryan-trecartin-poet/>, accessed 18 April 2015.
7 My thanks to my eight-year-old daughter for this reference to the YouTube channel SevenSuperGirls, <http://www.youtube.com/user/SevenSuperGirls>.
8 ‘The maximalist exuberance of Trecartin’s films render them impossible to watch, as we understand it. We focus our attention on a particular screen-area, and, in doing so, edit our engagement with the artwork’ (Patrick Langley, ‘Ryan Trecartin: the real internet is inside you’, April 2012, The White Review, <http://www.thewhitereview.org/art/ryan-trecartin-the-real-internet-is-inside-you/>, accessed 23 July 2014.