Art Seen: National

REGEN PROJECTS // LIZZIE FITCH & RYAN TRECARTIN

by Natalie Hegert

Animation Abuse

“You might in touch with… end up… the source… What?” The girl speaking drunkenly rolls in her chair. She tries again, slurring. “You might end up in touch with the source.” She repeats this sentence a few times for emphasis, exaggerating and lengthening her pronunciation. “You might… end up… in touch with… the sssourrrce…”

In a hyper-real world awash in simulacra, “the source” is a rather curious concern for the inhabitants of Ryan Trecartin’s various worlds. There are references upon references, recurring character groups with peculiar visual identifiers, words and phrases repeated to the point of becoming esoteric slang expressions, visual motifs and logos appearing in one form only to morph into another—all swirling around in hypnotic loops, defying any attempt to identify a point of origin. The viewer enters into this loop at random intervals, making any type of story arc or progression of action nearly impossible to locate. It is interesting to think of a film with “entry points,” as if the viewer can enter the moving image just as they enter any other space.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Animation Abuse at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, October 22 - November 26, 2014  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Animation Abuse at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, October 22 – November 26, 2014
Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Entering Regen Projects, one finds the walls painted in various nocturnal shades in the entrance hall, which is carpeted in a deep crimson. Perhaps a nod to the artists’ current Los Angeles base, the space alludes to the conventions of the movie industry: the ubiquitous red carpet of the Hollywood premier. The viewer encounters three large sculptures here, sprawled out in various scenarios that nearly obstruct the viewer’s path through the gallery (this was particularly the case on opening night, in true LA fashion, as traffic bottlenecked between the sculptures and the front desk, where the wine was being served). Made of cardboard, steel and paper maché, painted with shiny metallic acrylic paint, the sculptures appear to be struggling and writhing in their respective plights: the first agonizes in a pile of hay; the second is intertwined in a confounding assembly of chairs; the third seems to have fallen over, crushing a camping tent. The figures are like golems: their limbs and torsos hastily molded, their movements clumsy, lacking any agency or free will of their own, dumb, mute, and soulless.

The actors, too, seem to idly wander through the movies; they converse with each other in inconsequential looped phrasing. Nothing happens, or if it does, it doesn’t affect anything. The action is neither fixed nor improvisational—“this is not a jam band”—rather, it feels trapped in a Sisyphean trajectory.

“It’s cool you hired a videographer for our haunted adventure,” one character proclaims—her power comes from the fact that she possesses a binder, perhaps with some clue to their purpose, which is never revealed. We don’t know who the hired videographer is, because everyone with her is equipped with cameras or GoPros, and  camera-equipped drones follow the characters around as they begin exploring the space. “I can’t believe someone is paying us to spend a night in this building, it is so easy and cheap.” The site is a former Masonic Temple in Los Angeles, where, in real life, Trecartin and Fitch were given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted within the interior of the building, which would be shortly thereafter be gutted and renovated. While the roving bands of characters explore the building in this “site visit,” the building itself becomes a character of its own, the way a haunted house might in a generic horror film—“that was a haunted ceiling moment!”—yet it remains unmenacing. No, the building isn’t exactly a character—it doesn’t “do” anything—but it is an enhanced setting. Its visual properties are repeated and echoed in the digital recreations. In fact, we learn very little about the building. Like a bad dream, the characters wander around, but never seem to encounter each other, constantly kept from realizing any sort of goal. Unexplained animated digital chimeras—small dinosaurs, and weasel-rats also roam around, and animated birds fly upside down without getting anywhere. These are high-def creatures in a video world.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Ledge, Los Angeles, October 22 - November 26, 2014 Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Ledge, Los Angeles, October 22 – November 26, 2014
Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

The two movies that are assembled from footage of the Masonic Temple site, are viewed within camping-style sculptural theatres. The first is screened within an enormous custom built camping tent; complete with surround sound and surround view, with six screens encompassing the viewer on all sides, even one on the ceiling. Comfy blocks, pillows and modular lounge furniture allow the viewer to sink in and lay back for the experience, which features movie-quality sound and a shuddering bass tone. In the next gallery the second movie is shown on a screen mounted on the ceiling under which a number of sleeping bags and pillows have been arranged. The room is also lined with rows of theatre seats stripped from the Masonic Temple.

In the last room of Regen Projects is a sculptural theatre entitled Range Week, where the earlier movies Center Jenny (filmed at Fitch and Trecartin’s Los Angeles-based studio) and Junior War (a movie Trecartin pieced together from footage he shot while in high school) are shown. Range Week offers perhaps the most conventional viewing arrangement—with risers, headphones, air mattresses, a couple of monster truck tire trampolines for lounging, and coolers stocked with beverages. It is here that we encounter Sara Source, or a number of girls who claim to be Sara Source. (Is that Aubrey Plaza, from Parks and Rec? Yes it is, and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development is in there too.) Sara Source is the archetype that all the other girls emulate, she is the proto Valley Girl, she is, as Trecartin’s in house writer  Kevin McGarry clarifies, “a direct descendent of the humanity all the other vessels idolize.” The girls are involved in what seems like a ritual initiation, evolving from Basic Jennys to higher level Jennys. They’re not aiming for the top but for the middle—to be the Center Jenny—reinforcing the group status quo, a common aim among young college-age women: don’t stand out too much because it makes you vulnerable. There’s an uncomfortable sorority-hazing scene in this, but Center Jenny has “weoponized earmuffs,” an icily vacant gaze, and doesn’t seem to be affected. This is the post-human era, one gathers, as there is mention of a time “back in the human era,” a time stuck in linearity—“so dumb!” “We’ve evolved from animations. That’s who our ancestors are,” explains a male teacher figure.

Titled with variants of “animation abuse,” the three golem-like sculptures encountered at the entry allude to a thing molded by humans, the copy stuck in a closed loop or limbo, unable to act on its own, but holding the promise of a way to evolve into a higher being. Or, it references the more exaggerated, amplified version of the animation’s own source material, doomed to repeat itself over and over again. It is the metaphor of Jurassic Park: using ancient DNA to make new beings that eventually consume their makers.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Animation Abuse, Los Angeles, October 22 - November 26, 2014  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Installation view of Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Animation Abuse, Los Angeles, October 22 – November 26, 2014
Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

While these films are some of Trecartin’s least reliant on any sort of narrative, and can be difficult at times to follow, they are no less compelling. As a contemporary of Trecartin and Fitch (I was born in the same year), I sometimes feel like I should inherently “get it” as part of the generation. Maybe I do in my own way. As one of the characters might say: I can at least aspire to be aware that I’m missing it. This suite of movies certainly bears repeat viewing. I only wish that Trecartin and Fitch were themselves more prominent—they are conspicuously absent as main characters, and I rather miss their on-screen energy. Regardless, the works remain dense, layered, and enthralling.

If you’re not in Los Angeles, Trecartin and Fitch’s works are on view in concurrent exhibitions at KW Institut in Berlin and at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. And hopefully these new movies will soon be adapted and posted online, so you can watch them, likely stoned, from the comfort of your own home, over and over again.

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Natalie Hegert is an art writer currently based in Los Angeles.

This exhibition will run until November 26, 2014.

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