A famous artist once said: "The function of Art is to disturb."
I remembered this quote the other day when I came across Ryan Trecartin. The 30-year-old video artist and current wunderkind of the American art world produces clips which leave one feeling positively violated.
A Family Finds Entertainment, 2004 (Still)
Trecartin’s work could be described as a pastiche of identity in a media-obsessed culture. His high-impact world turns plotlessly, fuelled by imagery and sounds. Crazed characters, including the artist himself and constant collaborator Lizzie Fitch, sweep through takes like multicoloured tornados, hostile and attention-seeking, vacant on the inside. With grotesque costumes and wigs, painted teeth and faces, Trecartin’s creatures are constant performers, mini-Gagas beyond gender, marketing their lives through eccentric mannerisms and buzzwords.
In one exemplary scene from “A Family Finds Entertainment” (the artist’s graduation project for the Rhode Island School of Design), two manic characters interact disjointedly through shrieks and synthetic phrases. In another project, the 2007 I-BE AREA, a character called Pasta jabbers about “life, reproduction, always in the moment, always” like a deranged TV commercial.
As absurd as these situations may feel, they are also disquietingly familiar. For Trecartin inflates a world where platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have established a culture of immediacy and ceaseless “sharing”, ultimately leading to "opinion pollution" (Trecartin) and a defragmentation of identity.
K-CoreaINC.K (section a), 2009 (Still)
This is rather poignantly demonstrated in “Any Ever”, his more politically-veered installation currently on show in MoMA PS1, New York. Four frenzied hours of material include a group of nurses-cum-party girls erratically dancing in front of a dental clinic (“Healthcare, I don’t care, that’s all we care”), a consultant called “French adaptation Korea” declaring that she specializes in "identity tourism", and a white-painted Latina destroying her flat and proclaiming her body a “good place for business”.
These videos exhilarate, but Trecartin's talent and enthusiasm sometimes feel uncontrolled. The incessant and no doubt consciously crass changes of music, frames and characters result in videos which can at times be nauseating to watch, and whose medium to my mind mirrors its message too literally. Yet ever since watching his videos, I overhear shreds of conversations in the street or on a bus and cannot help but feel trapped in one of Trecartin's clips. If his art can - even temporarily - change the way we perceive, maybe it is worth the disturbance.