When the time comes
you won’t understand
Ryan Trecartin and Kristina Lee Podesva
Kristina Lee Podesva: Let’s start with some quotes from your film P.opular S.ky (section ish) (2009), which I have pulled to help us formulate a discussion about your work in general. Besides being drawn in by the way the films look, I love the talking, the dialogue in them. Could you discuss the fact that your films are highly scripted?
I want to live in a world where narration is the devil.
Ryan Trecartin: The writing of these movies tends to take four distinct forms, which all un- fold simultaneously. The most obvious one is the written script, the shape of which can change depending on the scene and people involved. At times the script can be fairly traditional in form, with play-by-play, character-assigned dialogue sequences. Other times the script is a list of phrases, a monologue or a poem with no concrete delineations of characters, even if the performative space involves a group of personalities. The script can also be an agenda or a written structure, and the goals of that structure are explored based on topics and suggestions—collaborative, assignment-based translations of a phrase. The sets, props, costumes, hair, and makeup also constitute a type of script that I usually make in collaboration with artist Lizzie Fitch. This narrative space intersects the written script during the shoot and creates an intuitive space for the performers to activate a sort of nuanced improv within the structure of a sentence being performed. The editing, sound design, and effects processes are another phase of writing that reconsiders everything that has been captured on camera as raw supplies. A new script is then created, and the performance of that would be watching and reading the movie as a viewer.
Kristina Lee Podesva: I think your projects, on many levels, have a kind of radical hybridity at work and a resistance to linearity and simplicity and the separation between things. That hybridity is communicated on many levels; for instance, you activate many forms and mediums in the films, which include but are not limited to installation, performance, painting, photography, sculpture, video, digital graphics, and so on. Could you talk about when you started bringing all of these forms and mediums together and why?
Ryan Trecartin: I’ve always put a lot of energy into exploring the momentum of culture and our abilities to understand and translate vibes and sensations. A person is born at a certain point within a cultural momentum, with certain concepts and awarenesses handed to them as givens. It’s almost like each year babies’ presets are updated, and their default ideologies are ingrained into their collective “over it.” I think the collaborative wave of culture can become more important than any author. At the moment in time I was born, it was natural not to recognize boundaries between artistic mediums—as well as ideas, genders, races, and all sorts of nuances that are historically shoved into and understood in terms of categorical containers. I grew up alongside computer adolescence. I think lots of people born at the same time, or anytime after the birth of the home computer, see “-isms” as applications rather than truths and see definitions as filters rather than containers. It’s an exciting privilege to be chucked into the culture flow after so many people have made it possible to be fluid in practice, instead of merely in theory. Rather than talking around the idea which you call “radical hybridity” in theory, we are truly able to demonstrate it in a much more native way than previous generations. The “talk around” is somewhere else now, maybe post-human politics or cyber moral codes, or public-privacy issues. Art school was the first time I ever thought about mediums as autonomous dialogues. And it was fun.
Kristina Lee Podesva: It’s funny because art schools really do try hard to slot students into a discipline early on.
Ryan Trecartin: Many of them do, and RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) very much does or at least did from 2000 to 2004. They have majors, but I loved it—it wasn’t oppressive at all, it was just a very focused experience. I was in a tech major, and so even though all my classes centred around learning software and talking about editing, I never felt like I had to stick to any formats. Movies inherently put you in a place where you have to consider many mediums at once. You can make a sculpture, and then you can contextualize the sculpture in the scene while exploring a multitude of different points of view. You can set up an experience that translates the way you feel about that sculpture, the actual sculpture can even talk in the first, second, and third person all at once. Video lends itself to collaboration very well, not just with people but with mediums and ideas. I lived mostly with friends in the painting major, but video was a very natural home for a lot of our ideas.
When the time comes, you won’t understand the battlefield and all of its multi-complexities. I can’t wait until they invent concept camo....
Kristina Lee Podesva: I think this quote comes back to the exuberance in your mixed media approach, which you don’t actually see as even that mixed, but it is. It could be said to echo or renew some aspirations of art from the late ’60s and ’70s, when artists broke away from preoccupations with medium specificity and then innovated a multiplicity of styles, genres, and questions. However, it seems that your work is not so interested in the precursory, but in the contemporary. I wonder if any of those earlier genres or styles—and I’ve heard that you never saw John Waters or Kenneth Anger before you started making films—I wonder if there are any salient precedents for your work?
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