It is the business of the future to be dangerous….it’s the business of the past to be uncanny. --Marshall McLuhan
In June, Ryan Trecartin’s exhibition, “Any Ever,” opened concurrently at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City and the Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Miami. In July, Marshall McLuhan’s centenary birthday sparked an exciting re-mix of contemplation and criticism all over the net, exploring themes that are not far away from those found in “Any Ever,” such as time, place, and identity. Whether accident of nature or curatorial strategy, from this positioning of events emerges a point of connectivity that is simply irresistible.
“Any Ever” has been shown previously in multiple embodiments at several different venues and has been written about and described extensively. Most of the discussion has exalted him as the new best thing. Interestingly, I have yet to find the proposition of an indexical relationship between McLuhan’s and Trecartin’s work. In order to make this leap I will include some language expressed recently by Mckenzie Wark, author of Virtual Geography, The Virtual Republic, and chair of Culture and Media at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
During an audio webcast from his native Australia, Wark posits that although popular media has suggested it, McLuhan is not an oracle at all; he is an “orator." This very distinction reduces the conceptual gap between McLuhan’s television performances and Trecartin’s film scripts. The seven narrative films in Trecartin’s installation function as textual introductions to the new “tribal” identity that McLuhan declared to be a result of mediated culture and that has manifested itself as a faceless corporate brand in “Any Ever.” The title itself mirrors a sense of time that is non-specific, non-descript, ever-present and jarring in its totality, proving through satirical performance and the appropriated language of everyone and no one, the eminent disappearance of the individual.
McLuhan said during a 1960’s interview found in the Fishko files,
“Everything we observe about the media points in the direction of tribal man (man created by the new electronic media) and away from individual man (literary man)…. We are getting rid of individualism, we are in the process of making a tribe.”
Soothsayer or not, he seems to have known all along that such cameos as Trecartin presents in his films would someday exist. He also describes time and textuality as “no longer one thing at a time, but wherever possible everything happening at once.” Time is “no longer a line, but a field.” This equation seems to describe perfectly the expression of form found in “Any Ever.”
Trecartin’s films are characterized by their simultaneity and for conflating a familiar sense of omni-presence unique to “being on the web” with the monumental physical scale and inaccessibility of the museum. Ryan Trecartin treats the viewer and his characters as fluid entities, shape shifters that can be transported between multiple realities, instantaneously. In essence he splits the self into many parts of a whole. All parts remain interchangeably linked giving form to McLuhan’s idea of the tribal identity. The viewers may have as many experiences within the space as they wish, moving in and out of different “fields” of communication with each step. One can sit, listen and watch privately on headphones in a staged living room set replete with couches or lie in a bed sharing ambient noise with others as colorful and abstract images wiz by from all directions, a more painterly experience. Viewers also have full access to the videos on the web, further complicating the issue of place. Ultimately, “Any Ever” could not be better timed for the occasion to dig deeper into the effects of media on human interaction and to examine current ideas about time, place and identity.
~Felecia Chizuko Carlisle
Images: Installation view, Ryan Trecartin, Any Ever, 2011. Courtesy Museum of North Miami.