Whether Line, a Discussion of Work in Progress
Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin (both *1981) are acclaimed for a collaborative practice that fuses nonlinear films with immersive installations. Rhizome-like narratives and an imploding dramaturgical logic characterize their film and video work. Protagonists embody fluid gender roles and forms of fragmented subjectivity in a buoyant clash of reality-TV and social-media identity tropes. The American duo is currently based in Athens, Ohio. They conceive of their installations as “sculptural theatres” in which viewers themselves become actors.
Fitch and Trecartin met in the early 2000s while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. Even the early Valentine’s Day Girl (2001) and Wayne’s World (2003)—two of the first videos in which Fitch and Trecartin collaborated—are marked by a probing of prepackaged psychologies. Other, later works including I-BE AREA (2007), Sibling Topics (section a) (2009), and CENTER JENNY (2013) find the artists radicalizing their artistic practice and expanding it to include large-scale installations that serve as “sculptural theatres” for watching their films. These offbeat environments can resemble labyrinths, living and bedroom suites, or obstacle courses.
Both the videos and the installations are group efforts, developed in collaboration with artists, friends, and roommates roughly the same age as Fitch and Trecartin. The subculture of their generation (so-called millennial culture) is the works’ starting point, reference, and setting in one. While older works mostly explore themes having to do with gender and community, the more recent Temple Time (2016) and Property Bath (2019) also focus on the aging of this generation and its interest in ecology and new, rural ways of life.
Although Fitch and Trecartin are not performance artists per se, the idea of “performance” is essential to their work. The artists don disguises, wigs, makeup, and prostheses to assume hyperactive roles in their videos. They and other actors soliloquize incessantly, often at the same time. Identities, gender roles, and personality traits are playfully presented as readymades—there to be extracted, combined, and deconstructed. Protagonists are acutely aware of the camera’s presence, perform for it, address it directly, and appear to need it at some fundamental level, as if to reassure themselves of their existence. Dialogues fade in as glaring graphic elements; the tempo and tone of voices are manipulated; animations and split screens come into view, images tilt, rotate, float in cyberspace, and disappear in 3D or spatialized image-in-image effects.
The duo’s filmic and sculptural practice is both unique and replete with art-historical references. It continues the legacy of the Pictures Generation and artists like Cindy Sherman, ties in with the installations and videos of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, and updates ideas from experimental filmmakers including John Waters, Jack Smith, and Kenneth Anger.
Fitch and Trecartin’s parallel artistic universe takes the rules of self-representation in reality TV and social media to their utmost extreme and can be understood as a distorted reflection of our time. In a disquieting kind of contagion, it ensures that viewers are ultimately affected by its energy. How they perceive the works depends on their spatial position in the installations, their own biographical experiences and psychological characteristics, whether they are claustrophobia or catharsis prone. They are emphatically dragged into the spotlight and become the protagonists of their own aesthetic experience.
School of Art & Design Visitors Committee