Monday, September 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene in Allston

Some shots of damage after the storm.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Little More on Ryan Trecartin

There is no there there, and that’s the way it should be.

Ben Davis published an interesting review of Ryan Trecartin’s work on Artinfo which includes the memorable line:

in many ways, his characters behave as if they seized upon YouTube's motto, "Broadcast Yourself," as a mantra, only to find that there was no real self to broadcast.

However Davis meant it, I don’t think of it as a criticism. Rather, it hits on a key aspect of Trecartin’s work. Trecartin presents us with a semi unconscious viewpoint conditioned by twitch (1) driven, novelty seeking web surfing. It doesn’t feel the need to provide the scaffolding of a coherent ego or impose a single narrative viewpoint upon the event stream.

What is interesting about this approach is that it is very much in tune with the way in which we, as beings embodied in the world, actually encounter things. No, not at a conscious level, much of our experience gets filtered out, and categorized as unimportant prior to being presented to our consciousness for consideration (2). Whether it is at the sensory level, where we are (blissfully?) unaware of background noises and smells while our vision automatically adjusts for changes in lighting, color while filtering out persistent distortions, our consciousness is this rarefied abstraction sitting atop a massive machinery hacked out over tens of thousands of years of evolutionary development (bringing to mind the image of a cruise ship, with the galleys, engines and gyroscopes humming under the decks while we sit next to the pool in the sun with an umbrella drink).

What I find appealing in Trecartin’s work is its attempt to present us with the speed and quasi randomness of free-associative surfing while being very restricted in it’s palette: no basso profundo or 1950‘s nuclear families for Ryan.

It’s like the output of a highly tuned, disciplined preconscious subsystem: a giant grandmother cell (3) tuned for screechy, garish situations of screechy, garish people with adjustment issues, in slow feedback loop with itself, until it finally collapses, exhausted, waiting for the next go. If you have part of your brain tuned that way, you can enjoy it: high speed, twitch driven surfing without the distractions or the risk of repetitive stress injury.

I don’t mean this as a slight, this ability to capture an experience, intensify it and focus it is what makes Trecartin’s work engaging and since I, like most people, have more parts of my brain than that particular aforementioned “grandmother” cell, any actual high speed surfing done that way in real life would soon find me veering off topic pretty quickly.

This points to an interesting tension: although it’s preconscious and at the speed of a slow twitch, it’s much more focused and restrained in what it surveys. It is as if it was a brain completely in service of and controlled by a single grandmother cell. Put another way: “a slowed down, focused consideration of high speed, twitch based surfing.”

1: See wikipedia on twitch gameplay

2: There are many references for this, one that I’m fond of is “Vertical versus horizontal modularity” Fig 10.1 of S.L. Hurley’s Consciousness in Action (Harvard University Press 1998)

3: I’m using the term somewhat loosely see wikipedia's grandmother cell entry, ond/or see A framework for consciousness by Crick and Koch for more detail