I am sitting in my apartment and I am trying to watch Ryan Trecartin videos on my computer and I’m having a lot of difficulty doing it. They are simply too nutso. At first, I thought, “he’s got to do something about that…I honestly can’t even watch this for more than a couple of minutes,”…but, then, I realized that, in fact, Trecartin had latched onto something really smart about the way he makes his videos. They are not meant to work cinematically, where one starts from the beginning and watches the whole way through (well, perhaps, one could do it, but to my mind, the point lies elsewhere). His videos, rather, work much better in the world and language of contemporary art where the audience is going to come in at any time and watch for a minute or two, until they get the aesthetic or the point and, then, maybe stay and watch for longer (maybe stay for the whole thing), but, most likely, move on to the next work of art or the next gallery or the next whatever. The art occurs in the conception of the aesthetic, in reflecting upon the fact that this artist made something that works like this and the fact that he did it really convincingly, than it is in the pleasures of the narrative, per se. The fact that there is a narrative is simply part of the art (it’s something you like), but the actual experience of the video as art lies in considering the fact that this thing exists in the world and you’re actually watching it right now and “isn’t that really weird/amazing/whatever?” In an interview with Karen Verschooren, Cory Arcangel talks about this in relation to video art’s emergence into contemporary art:
You have a lot of gallery video artists now and things became less paced in cinema-time. A gallery will change the concept of cinema-time or narrative time. It doesn’t completely erase it, but people can walk in at any point and people can leave at any point. So you’re dealing with a different concept of time than with single-channel video art for instance. So, one thing that those gallery video artists started to do was to take this into account. They also started to deal with questions like how does a video look, how is it installed, how is it projected, and so on. These are all things that brought video out of the single channel distribution model and into the gallery. We will also have to deal with this.
However, after that consideration of the video within the art gallery context, what is there? What does the work tell you about itself now that you’re acquainted? How does it reflect upon itself, how does it reflect upon its world (the world of contemporary art)?
In some ways, Ryan Trecartin’s videos work better at a party, some sort of social situation where someone is playing a strange or unique video that is not meant to be watched beginning to end (it’s too noisy, you’re talking to people, etc.), than it is, instead, to be reflected upon as part of a social gathering, as something that someone would play at their party, like as a lens through which to consider the party.