Video Mutants: Rave damage

Pub date January 23, 2008
WriterMarke B.
SectionMusicSectionSuper Ego

>>Click here to read Marke B.’s interview with Ryan Trecartin


SUPER EGO "Hey Skippy, PattyMay is here. In. This. Room."

"Oh god, it’s true! PattyMay is in this room."

"Yes! Tell him I am here. I am PattyMay, and I am in. This. Room."

"Did you say PattyMay is in the room?"

This is the Guardian‘s video art issue, and anyone who’s recently hung out with a certain brand of cued-in, mid-20s clubber knows that the neon-splattered, inverted Internet psycho-vids of Ryan Trecartin are the new now. Those who’ve not hung out with such can plug directly into any enervated crackles and eyeball quivers lingering from their tab-heavy rave days — a tweekend back in K-land, courtesy of capital A — with a quick scan of the Philadelphia-based 26-year-old’s YouTube channel, WianTreetin.

There — and in several big-time art exhibitions throughout the world — you’ll find one of the most mind-bending glosses on getting ready for a night out, and actually going out, that’s ever been burnt to digi, A Family Finds Entertainment (2004). This half-hourish doozy begins with a gothic drag specter clutching a bottle of generic hair spritz and trying to pull a little girl into a bathroom closet. It ends with a boy who’s been run over by a ghost car rising from the dead, kind of, as a gender-clown version of himself gets reborn in a kiddie pool after a house is destroyed by an underground indie rock dance orgy. (Cue fireworks.)

In between is what one character calls "nonlinear trash, with color!" and the wickedest toss-off line in the universe, "To the dark side — I party alone." Also: a chipmunk remix of Sophie Ellis Baxter’s awful "Murder on the Dance Floor," a spastic impersonation of infernal fiber-optic networks, liberal quantities of ingested toner, confused plans shouted through butcher-paper walls, and the partially imaginary dream girl PattyMay, made somehow realer by several incantations of her name. All this and more, plus an overload of kitten star wipes.

What? That’s not your typical night out? Honey, call me.

Mapping the plots of Trecartin’s hyperactive, live-action phantasmagorias is so beside the point it’s next to it. Part of the posted synopsis of his 2006 short Tommy Chat Just E-Mailed Me: "Takes place inside and outside of an Internet e-mail…. Tammy prints stuff and confronts Beth. Beth does a Google search for ‘fun’ and finds ‘ugly,’ so she phone calls her dark dream girlfriend Pam who has communication problems, a dead computer painting, Apple OSX, and their lesbian communal baby prop."

And although the look and feel of his episodes — Microsoft-blue papier-mâché interiors, vine-sprouting ceilings, fluorescent-dipped skin tones, looped asexual voices, ominous snippets of warped bubblegum pop — are definitely wiggy, drug analogies come up obvious and short. Trecartin’s created a hilarious and horrifying — hilarifying — open-source code for the nightmare side of contemporary life, with its inflatable technological chaos, zombified discount shopping, and endless idiotic yakking. Wild club nights and the ancient rituals of rebirth they tap into yield a central theme — actual physical activity among streaming virtual selves.

In 2007’s I-BE AREA — basically what the invisible thing that sneaks up behind you when you’ve been online too long looks like — the main gist is the soul’s fate in a world of obnoxious social networking, one that reduces individuals to quasi-emotional ADD outbursts and illogical catchphrases. It’s life aboard the MySpace Death Star, and everyone had better fill up their blogs, crop their pics, broadcast in a perfect urban patois, and be their own friends. "Look, I think I just saw a highly advanced, 3-D text message of my future self giving me the middle finger," main character I-BE, a.k.a. Trecartin, says snootily.

I-BE AREA zings off on a million paths in its quest for authenticity — names become other names, twins melt into clones, characters switch places with their avatars and turn clairvoyant. There’s a jaw-dropping tap dance sequence featuring orphaned kids recorded on Adoption Audition Tapes. At one point a woman who looks like she wandered off the set of Dynasty identifies herself as the Head-PArent and drops a hypothetical blow-dryer into a hot tub full of hippie ghouls. Later a noodle-eyed tranny ectomorph called Pasta kidnaps a baby.

Near the center of it all is the Wood Shop — a real wood shop, with band saws revving and lumber strewn precariously. It’s also the perfect joke on a mainstream gay dance club (or online hookup site). "Exotic" black go-go boys writhe frantically on tables, fractured machinery noises sub in for lame-ass techno, and an obnoxious, pig-tailed faggy avatar screams "What?" into her brick cell phone. Then everyone prances around lewdly and breaks windows. Just like real life!