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Installation view of RYAN TRECARTIN’s “Re’Search Wait’S” at Pond Society, Shanghai, 2018–19. Photo by Jjyphoto. All images copyright the artist; courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London/Los Angeles. 

Re’Search Wait’S

Ryan Trecartin

Pond Society
USA China

Dark and noisy, the exhibition environment of Ryan Trecartin’s first solo exhibition in China was intense. When shown at New York’s MoMA PS1 in 2011, the four movies that comprise Re’Search Wait’S (2009–10), were allocated an entire floor of the museum; at Pond Society, in Shanghai, they were confined to one room, projected on adjacent walls. This amplified the rush of declamatory activity and relentless video effects that are typical of Trecartin’s congested approach to cinema. Rumbling ambient sounds seemed associated with the images, but were never synchronized. Headphone leads tethered the spectators too close for comfort. Various furnishings—beds, couches, worktables, and racked seating—faced each projection, thrusting the films’ mise-en-scènes into the room. 

RYAN TRECARTIN, The Re’Search (Re’Search Wait’S), 2009–10, still from HD video: 40 min 9 sec.
RYAN TRECARTIN, The Re’Search (Re’Search Wait’S), 2009–10, still from HD video: 40 min 9 sec.
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Re’Search Wait’S is like a deranged soap opera, often set in the disheveled bedrooms of unexceptional homes. Action also takes place in utility areas with Ikea shelving, a poolside, a photography studio, an obviously fake airplane, and a car. In punkish make-up and extravagant, eclectic costumes—a hapless concoction of All Saints and Forever 21—the performers clamor for attention before the camera. Everyone plays several parts but none are introduced during the film, with sudden edits cutting confusingly between characters. In the video entitled The Re’Search, just as you are beginning to establish who is who, children take over, supplanting all the characters. 

With a combined duration over 100 minutes, the four videos present a torrential assault of montage, with dialogue sped up to sound like chipmunks. As one acclimatizes to their disjointed manner, a coherent narrative begins to emerge. The tetralogy tells of the timeless odyssey of a pure soul, JJ (one of several personas played by Trecartin himself), who seeks creative integrity and personal authenticity in a world of conflicting ambitions. JJ’s journey exposes him to the influence of numerous slippery and self-obsessed characters, who proclaim their lines directly to the camera with a bravura that leaves no doubt as to their self-belief. Only at the end, when the credits roll sedately, is a name check provided, identifying JJ’s influencers—Able Hobby, Cindy Career and Jessica Job, alongside an eponymous, Puck-like Wait, also played by Trecartin. Wait brings indecision and ambiguity as a guiding principle, defined by lines such as, “What they really want is always what they really want, and need, and get.” 

RYAN TRECARTIN, Roamie View: History Enhancement, 2010, still from stereo HD video: 28 min 23 sec.
RYAN TRECARTIN, Roamie View: History Enhancement, 2010, still from stereo HD video: 28 min 23 sec.
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The viewer discerns the narrative from simultaneous sources—dialogue, sound, moving images, and on-screen text. This overloaded production method reaches an apotheosis in the third movie, Roamie View: History Enhancement. JJ delves into the pasthoping to identify and change a decisive moment in his development. With a hint of low budget sci-fi, a car is the time machine, and time-travel is visualized in a tumble of appropriated video, derived from lifestyle advertising and TV drama. This is intercut with locations including JJ’s room, a bathroom, and a front room in which an indie band is producing a make-or-break demo. The jumble of clips reveals to JJ that the past is a tumult of compromise, indecision, indifference, and subsequent regret, yielding few options for fulfillment in either his career or relationships. Capitulating, he declares, “I will take every opportunity I can to fail.”

JJ’s impasse would have resonated with the local Shanghai audience; in the relentlessly competitive environment of modern, cosmopolitan China, the need to internalize family and societal expectations and project an image of material success is prevalent. As JJ discovers, how he is perceived is more important than who he is. Reaching a point of desperation, JJ exclaims, “I want out!” Cindy Career interprets this to mean he is now ready to forsake his quest for integrity and retorts, “I think you are probably hirable now.”

JJ can neither chase his own dreams, nor seek the approbation that comes with financial status and a stable career. He cannot intuit the consequences of the choices he makes—none of the options belong in his reality. It seems that in the years since Trecartin made these works, they have become less an unruly speculation on the discontinuity of life as an “outsider” and more a reflection of the perpetual dilemmas that many face.

Ryan Trecartin’s Re’Search Wait’S” is on view at Pond Society, Shanghai, until January 20, 2019. 

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