Ryan Trecartin’s I-Be Area is dense: the sheer volume and inventiveness of the visual information and the high pitch of the narrative completely transport you into his virtual realm. The actors scream and slide through vocal registers in Trecartin’s signature affectation. The screen is in a constant state of unrest, hyperactively mutating as the fast-paced multiple-plots unfold. Both in terms of form and content, everything is constantly shifting, fluxuating, pushing to the point of breaking. It is in turns aesthetically stunning, very funny and viscerally shocking. Though very long and very non-linear, I-Be Area is captivating. During today’s talk, the artist described his characters as conduits for the immense amounts of information “whirling” through them. And the effect is replicated for the viewer–I felt myself absorbed into the action, temporarily liberated from all sense of self and place.
A lot is made of the supposed “webbyness” of his work, and certainly those markers are inextricably present: identity is a matter of avatars, the vernacular is that of text/instant messaging, resolution is inconsistent, desktop interfaces and screens organize the imaginary space of the film, death is the recycle bin icon and an lolcat seemed to make an appearence. But, it is of course these tropes that are almost instantly obsolete, and the more abstract technological underpinnings that give the work its uber-contemporariness. These associations function mostly not in and of themselves, but as pointers to more abstract, underlying concerns. There is a slipperiness, a stance of interactivity, a virtual projection of self and preponderance of information that most strongly speak to our evolving relationship to the internet. It is this “information overload” which I found the particularly compelling. While the speed and stylization of the film preclude the easy identification of content, this actually creates an incredibly open space between the film and the viewer. I was flung into a web of associations informed by the interaction of the film and the cultural information I brought to bear on it. I could tease out affinities to the punning, cadences and repetition of Gertrude Stein, the stylized “bad acting” of Gregg Araki, the painted flesh of early Gilbert and George, the labyrinthine alter egos of Dennis Cooper, or even the monochromatic screen of Derek Jarman’s “Blue.” Which is not to say that these references are necessarily intentional or important to the video or that Trecartin is working in a tradition or quoting or appropriation, because it is precisely his economy of information that is so radical. Things that were once obscure, oblique or disposable gain a free-floating (but also infinitely contextual) currency; information is a raw material that can be mobilized, re-directed and altered at will. The stance towards content has more of an affinity with strings of youtube video responses, stitched together re-imaginings of popular culture content, or bookmarked favorites as creative strategy. Rather than inundated, the audience is activated–included in the collaborative creation of meaning that also characterizes Trecartin’s working process.
Information is not the only site of overload in the film. With the inclusion of sculptural works by collaborator Lizzie Fitch in the sets, the prominence of make-up as paint (and vice-versa), and the plastic manipulation of the video on the screen, the categories of sculpture, video and performance are made to overflow. We are visually and aurally overwhelmed by the artist-as-composer, bringing the audience to multiple crescendos of total intensity. Emotions are overwrought but also unavoidable. Regimes of gender, sexuality race and identity are casually–but ecstatically–overthrown. I left with the feeling of complete virtual dissolution, akin to spiritual and physical sensations realized after an inadvertently too-long internet session–but in an exhilarating way. Perhaps this sensation is more akin to the sublime peak of a rock show when you can close your eyes and momentarily feel the complete merge between the particles of your phyiscal body and those of the sound waves hitting you.
Posted by: Jenevive Tatiana