Too fast, too much, too messy, too everything. The suite of four videos which comprise Ryan Trecartin’s Re’Search Wait’S (2009-10) certainly ticks the boxes of video overload, aural saturation, performative freneticism, hyper-banality, lo-res assault. Riffing on Trecartin’s ‘unmonumental’/post-mashup/post-Internet take on Video Art, the extant writing on its screenic/headphonic pixel-partying mostly misses the materiality of his audiovisuality and the specificity of its televisual lineage. For despite whatever convoluted interior narrative logic they propose or whatever uber-zeitgeist-dystopia can be exacted from their artistic construction, they’re mostly about one thing: being fucked-up.
This state is primarily determined by the relentless clash between performers embodying characters, figures, memes, beings, glyphs and emoticons, and how their embodiment evidences an integral dislocation between a person and the life and work they lead. Across Re’Search Wait’S’s parade of wannabe-art-stars, lank-office-schmos, acid-pixie-bitches and tween-porno-queens, one senses a distinctive mode of theatricality – like Brecht on angel-dusted helium. I don’t need to read this or perceive it because I’m being told it non-stop (across nearly two hours as I take in all four videos in their entirety). Despite Re’Search Wait’S visual bombast, its soundtrack highlights this performative schism. Featuring roomy dialogue caught solely by in-camera microphones and pitch-shifted in post-production, it streams Chipmunked phraseology adopted within crappy pseudo-corporate workplaces, shitty rented apartments, and roaming interzones where friends therapeutically bitch and gripe. Each of these zones in reality is neurotically fortified by its insular argot and semantics, the mastering of which grants power to one intent on commandeering its terrain. The diarrheic speech delivered by Trecartin and others in multiple roles portrays them as masters of this language. But the adherence to each zone’s linguistic logic also entails one’s disenfranchisement within such a fabricated system which is governed by cynical exploitation: people prove how fucked-up they are by laying the greatest claims to not being so.
Yet Re’Search Wait’S embraces the hysterical unfit between the self and its socialisation, here expressed by the tyrannical voice-track which dictates all the fragmented responses, engagements and altercations acted out and up by its self-immolating cast. In this sense, Trecartin is listening to not only what people say, but how what they say about themselves likely contradicts any sense of self identity. This type of linguistic disjuncture is an inevitable staple of Web 2.0, because once so many people start talking/filing/sharing/commenting/linking on any topic, their speech will approach the event horizon of lifting off from its societal plane and floating into a meta-speech realm detached from its originating communicative impulse. Thus a ‘meme-onic’ wordscape floats like a data field and virtually downloads itself into the ‘real world’ of your office, your flat, your favourite bar, your mind. Disjuncture then becomes a mode of synchronization – that is, of speaking in ways that invent a cleft yet bipartisan state where two people communicate via noise, interference, overload and multiplicity. Similar to Web 2.0’s deliberated collapses of communication, Re’Search Wait’S characters are full of lens-centric monologues. Neither interior not exterior, they are directed to the same void that a billion loser vloggers believe is their other half: a phantom corpus engineered by vapid comments which the vlogger takes personally.
The secondary level of Re’Search Wait’S attraction to being fucked-up is ontologically encoded in the videos. Departing from High Modernism’s extolment of destructive acts, Trecartin’s auteurship is built from the prefab tagging of creativity which all software promises its users. Drolly pretending to believe this hype (itself a theatrical stance inherited from Warhol through to Corey Arcangel), iMovie vfx-editing and Frooty Loops audio-tracking is employed to the point of self-destruction. And while this enables a reading through Pop Art strategies, I’m more reminded of Pop music’s own celebration of this wilful and perverse destruction. For the recurring gesture of smashing stuff up that frequently appears in Re’Search Wait’S is fucked-up teen 101.
Its formative televisual moment originates in early music videos like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going To Take It” (1984) and The Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right To Party” (1988): their performers pathetically destroy cheap sets. This impulse synchs to a sub stream of music videos, stretching from The Prodigy’s POV meltdown “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997) to Andrew W.K.’s bloodied “Party Hard” (2001) to Ke$ha’s morning-after “TiK ToK” (2009) to Die Antwoord’s “Baby’s On Fire” (2012) – even to Miley Cyrus’ vainglorious “Wrecking Ball” (2013). In cinema, it’s lauded in Greg Araki’s Totally Fucked Up (1993), Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) and Bully (2001), Harmony Korinne’s Gummo (1997) and Trash Humpers (2009), Jason Kahn’s Detention (2011), and Todd Phillips’ The Hangover trilogy (2009, 2011, 2013). While contemporary art continues to become bogged down in its graduate course PowerPoints on globalism and artistic responsibilities, Re’Search Wait’S aligns itself with this distinctive televisual music history of fake histrionics and destructive theatrics.
Running parallel to being fucked-up is Re’Search Wait’S’ fixation on the manifold methods of curing those who are fucked-up. And maybe these characters – like the various ‘consultants’, ‘stylists’ and ‘freelance advisors’ who are forever imparting advice in the four videos – are the most fucked-up. They speak half a century of American psycho-babble and self-help hucksterism. (Even Andrew W.K turned to ‘motivational speaking’ in 2005 and imparted a keynote in 2014 titled “Andrew W.K. and The Philosophy of Partying”.) Possibly the clearest art-line thrown here is to Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), Women In Revolt (1971) and Heat (1972), whose Warhol superstars like Joe Dellasandro, Holly Woodlawn, Andrea Feldman, Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling beautifully portray fucked-up characters all the while mouthing self-help diatribes. Trecartin’s characters are a meld of those superstars, and the nobodies embroiled in staged moralistic interventions who willingly appeared on early 90s tabloid talk shows like Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake (the latter of course an original actress in four John Waters’ films – himself an astute aficionado of the fucked-up).
Again, it's the maniacal pitch-altered, time-compressed, data-corrupted cam-crap which dumps this loquacious assuagement directly in one’s claustrophobic headspace via headphones (the means for auditing all these works in their installation format). This intensifies the presence of the spoken, accenting its ceaseless drooling and dribbling, and its breathless drive to forestall silence and the dead air of calm reflection. While the connections to the 90s phenomena of AutoTune pop hits and underground dance sub-genres like Gabba and Happy Hardcore are apparent in these Gerbil/Chipmunk voicings, I’m reminded of earlier canny grapplings with consumerist newspeak and voice manipulation in records like Moon Unit Zappa’s “Valley Girl” (1982) and Will Powers’ “Adventures In Success” (1983). The former mimicked the advent of the San Fernando Valley’s mall-bitch intonations; the latter down-pitched Lynne Goldsmith’s voice to affect a camp male new-age guru. These days, such gabble echoes through Michael Alig’s early 90s Party Kids doing the tabloid talk show circuit, to VHS self-improvement web archive Everything Is Terrible! (since 2007), to AOL’s ‘digital prophet’ David Shing giving TED talks in 2014. Re’Search Wait’S talks the same talk.