Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch: The Aboutthing (in the air)
Elizabeth Dee Gallery, April 11 – May 16, 2009
If such a thing as the collective unconscious could be visualized in a work of art, the Y generation’s version of it is arguably portrayed in Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s collaborative gallery debut. Awash in redolent earth tones of peach, auburn, and sand, the artists’ monolithic installation, The Aboutthing (in the air) (2009), encompasses the front room of the gallery space in a corporal explosion of past kitsch and of-the-moment cyber-culture. As the soundtrack for the installation—a hybrid compilation of avant-rock, punk and 80s electronica—plays softly amid the rustling of standing fans on lifeless palm trees, one slowly takes in an unmistakable feeling of déjà-vu. Even the scent of the room is familiar.
This may be due to the fact that Ryan Trecartin’s raucous installations have appeared as backdrops throughout the artist’s video work (which made its debut at the 2006 Whitney Biennial and can currently be viewed as part of the New Museum’s The Generational: Younger than Jesus survey) or because this brand of lowbrow aesthetics seemingly reigns king in the contemporary art world these days. But upon further reading it is difficult to deny that something more is taking place here. Just the sheer density of the work resonates on a guttural level.
For example, a 6-foot-high tower of vacation rental debris occupies the center of the space. In a conflation of the tragic and the absurd, derelict beach chairs, rubber casts of human limbs, desecrated pillows, and fake wildlife coalesce, anchored to a faux sand pedestal in an inescapable death lock. Beyond that, a raised wooden platform ascends to a russet-colored leather couch laced with kitchen tiles and overlooking an above-ground swimming pool. Floating jetsam, innocent enough at first, it ultimately reveals itself to be artificial body parts in large Tupperware containers (an homage to the suburban social rite?), while hapless synthetic cadavers line the bottom of the murky, turquoise-tinted water. This is what a pool party would look like if Sigmund Freud was the host—a psychological soup where anything goes and disparate parts of the human psyche converge with the material sum of its manufactured environments.
But Fitch and Trecartin’s mischievous rant is not over. In the back room of the gallery four additional installations titled Now, in the Sunroom an After Now 1-4 (2009) line the walls. Here the self-reflective aspect of cinema is examined in extravagantly Dionysian terms, with cannibalized body casts in kaleidoscopic hues tumbling over themselves and throughout the room. In one, a wall painting of a rocking chair—realized in hasty strokes of cerulean blue—is painted beside its eccentric real-life doppelgänger, adorned with a handcrafted sun-hat and various pieces of wig, poised for its close-up. In another, the “travel-pic” is literally turned on its head as a truncated torso posed upside-down amid a background of painted window panes and Concourse luggage. Color and texture are rampant throughout, resulting in a delirious atmosphere of bedlam and grit. A camera and tripod are present in all four installations, no doubt a commentary on society’s current obsession with self-documentation and online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Yet the sculptural image these filmic devices reflect is where Trecartin and Fitch’s work transcends short-lived art market trends and America’s analogous assembly-line mentality. There is something perversely redemptive about these installations’ implied chaos. By exposing the other side of the lens, the artists strip us of the illusion that it is all fun and games. These objects, frozen in muted silence, act as stale reflections of our mass-produced consumer culture and isolating techno-overabundance. What exists beyond the digitized frame can be a slippery slope, our mad avatar’s idealizations of the id run wild. In embracing these works the notion of fixed identity and artistic authorship are both questioned and eliminated, setting us adrift on the expanse that is cyber-reality. But then again, that might just be the fun of it all.
ContributorKara L. Rooney
Kara Rooney is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and critic working in performance, sculptures and new media installation. She is a Managing Art Editor for the Brooklyn Rail and faculty member at School of Visual Arts, where she teaches Art History and Aesthetics.