Ryan Trecartin, I-BE AREA (Double Jamie, Ramada Omar, and Sally Man Pause), video excerpt, 2007
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the kinship between Ryan Trecartin’s narratives and those of Maya Deren who, like Trecartin, used the camera (the Kino-Eye) as a device to expose and subsequently repair fractured and splintered humanity.
A fracture is generally not a pleasant event. Often, a certain amount of pain or violence –a loss of control and composure– accompanies a break. In the fantastic book Metal and Flesh (a favorite of mine), Ollivier Dyens describes this rupture as a necessary step in a movement towards posthumanism by using the fiction of Kafka, Wells and Orwell as examples of “plastic bodies” –bent, misshapen, bestialized, tortured and altered until their humanity is lost, or replaced, by some other state.
Posthumanism can be understood in at least two very distinct ways. One, I’ll call the material understanding, which has to do with bodies that have transcended what can be commonly understood as human. The other use of the term describes a philosophical posture that has moved beyond humanism (although it is up for debate what this “moving beyond humanism” actually means). However, one condition that both terms require is this break from humanity/humanism that Dyens describes, a rupture that can either be academic (in the philosophical understanding) or psychological/physical (in the material understanding). This rupture creates an interesting condition: despite being chronologically posterior to modernity, posthumanism’s break with humanity/humanism parallels pre-modern modes in its rejection of the category of the human.
Maya Deren, Ritual in Transfigured Time, 16mm film, 1946
I see traces of this chronological paradigm and rejection of the human in Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time and Trecartin’s I-BE AREA. Completed in 1946, Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time feature characters that prance around courtyards and hallways, unmoored from time and space by the 16mm film camera’s ability to shoot at variable speeds and the artist’s ability to splice disparate sequences together. In Trecartin’s I-BE AREA (2007), characters prance around hotels, wood shops, hallways and suburban houses, dissociated from stable identities because of the ability of digital technologies (digital video, the Internet, etc) to create infinite configurations and identical copies of information (avatars, personalities, objects, spaces) until the “original” becomes a matter of creative self-determination and destruction.
In the end, both works end with water, where Deren’s characters fade into the spirit world and Trecartin’s characters lose the layers of makeup that had constructed their identities. Water seems to be the solution to the discomfort felt by the characters caused by the instability in linear human constructions of movement and time. And here is where this chronological paradigm of posthumanism can be seen most clearly. While Trecartin uses water to scrub the patina of personhood from his characters and move them to a point beyond human culture, Deren’s use of water to transport her characters to a spiritual (prehuman, precultural) state harkens back to pre-modern mythologies. One element, two “eras.” Where one use of it implies a return to some utopic, spiritual state, the other jettisons a musty (post)modern ontology. Like drag performers exposing the constructedness of gender, through their own strangely paralleling means, Deren and Trecartin blow the lid off this thing we’ve called “human time.”