One of my favorite quotes, written early in the 20th century, long before the internet or wikipedia or social networking or Twitter or Youtube is this from T.S Eliot: “The vast accumulation of knowledge – or at least of information --- deposited by the 19th century have been responsible for an equally advanced ignorance.”
I always found these words particularly bitter because of what they must suggest about our present, where information has become not only instant by hyperdimensional model, but also so fluid and mobile that it can be stretched, manipulated, spun, twisted, and changed entirely, information that is basically non-informative and just data to be used, data to be placed completely at the service of desire and if you are Marxist (which I’m not) by Capitalism. The present is a world of instant gratification par excellence when it comes to information, and it is hard not to recognize a bit of Eliot’s double sided coin when it comes to the promulgation of information. I know that ignorance, the infantile, and the pathetic must have always existed, but it is hard not to see it everywhere now.
Ryan Trecartin offers this same, reality-television loving, vulgar society, but to such a stretched hyper degree, that you feel even more overwhelmed than usual. His seven part video exhibition Any Ever dynamically changes MOCA Pacific Design center spatially and in terms of video, takes the idea of the quick cutting and assemblage of brief, manic episodes to such a pulsing, raging state that his video temporarily suspends and disrupts your reason and leaves you a befuddled hive of half sensations. So many characters come and go, so many ideas offered quickly and never spoken of again, so many angles, it almost falls into a complete mess. You get the sense, however, that it isn’t a mess, and this may be the most disturbing thought of all. The worst of it is that the proceedings seem more familiar than strange.
I will try to set the scene, though it is difficult. MOCA PDC has been transformed into a series of 5 viewing rooms, each presenting a different video work. Each has a different seating arrangement, two have chairs, another a set of audience platforms and airplane seats, a third a series of beds, and the last, a group of couches. Once seated, you lock yourself into the sound of each video with a pair of headphones. In fact, just on the surface, the space feels like a bad Whitney Biennial full of artists that think that the fact that a viewer sits in a bean bag and views children doing childish things is a work of art. Trecartin, in a sense, is presenting the same, but beyond, way beyond. He presents children and adults acting like children—over saturated, and over the top children that seem to be spiraling into madness.
I admit, after watching the videos for some time, I don’t have even a remote handle on it all, but I get the sense that the characters are driven ultimately by the need for total exposure, they want nearly transcendent presence in the hypermedia world. Whether they are Trecartin’s businessmen, which he strangely calls the Koreas, or his army of tween girls, they literally beg for more saturation, a total union with wizzing information that tears any idea of a consistent, steady self and personality into thousands of exploding pieces. One young girl, pigtailed and dabbed with enough makeup to make her look like a cherry tomato, sums it up and I’ll paraphrase, “I’m waiting for the internet to declare its independence.” The suggestion is that the girl will happily move there, completely extinguishing the physical, boring reality of a self that lives in one place, that interacts with real people, for a hyper-self that doesn’t see traditional reality as any fun at all.
One thought I had in the installation was of reality television’s ability to take hours and hours of exceedingly boring footage from people’s lives and compress it into a one hour series of climaxes, dramatic upswings, fights, arguments, basically people at their craziest. In other words, actual reality does not make good television and does not sell products. In Trecartin’s world, the compression is even more extreme, each second is a sound bite of ignorant ranting, pleading for products and stardom, complaints about any sort of deglamorized existence.
I admit life, at its most vexing, resembles Trecartin’s extremes, and one thing I find dazzling about Ryan Trecartin’s ambitious, actually quite massive, installation is that even though I felt bludgeoned in the face with most of the awful, loathsome, low, pathetic, horrible, terrible moments of present day society, I somehow came out of it reflective. There is nothing quite like Trecartin’s video work, and I am not saying this is a good thing in and of itself. It’s not. New for new’s sake is not a virtue. Actually, the verdict is still out about whether or not I want to ever encounter a work by Trecartin again. I’m not sure it is good for me.
Eliot’s quote haunts this installation. Is Trecartin’s universe a warning or a wish? Does Trecartin bring forth such a manic world so we can see that it is where we are clearly headed, and thus, realize we should make the most of it? Is the hyper-self a good thing? Is this jumping pulsar of self-hood a new low of ignorance or a new height of achievement? I don’t know where Trecartin stands on these matters. I think the hyper-self is a terrible thing, a shill being that is devoid of almost everything I love in life, but I am intrigued to learn more about Trecartin’s stance. It may compel me to go back to the madness in some sort of Quixotic attempt to understand the madness, or it may simply lead to spending time cultivating virtues that counteract Trecartin’s world. Who knows which way desire will spin.