Introduced by Kevin McGarry
HD video, sound, 53' 15''
Ryan Trecartin’s movies unfold like futuristic fever dreams. Collaborating with his cast, Trecartin’s layered aesthetic reveals high-definition uncanniness, wherein digital life dynamics and gamesmanship merge with pop culture histrionics and banality. In CENTER JENNY, part of Trecartin’s presentation at the 55th Venice Biennale, his characters continuously evolve towards a post-human realm through reality show hermeneutics, prosumer rhetoric, and collegiate rituals.
CENTER JENNY is one of four movies completed in 2013 by Ryan Trecartin, first shown as part of an installation at the Arsenale during the 55th Venice Biennale. For this movie and its related works, Lizzie Fitch and Trecartin created a modular maze of sets on a soundstage with the help of commercial set builders. Designing with Google’s open source 3D modeling programSketchUP, the artists along with these tradespeople built a functional system of environments. The space is rigged to radically adapt for different purposes, but shifting as a narrative one as well, guiding action much in the way that a written script does. No pun intended, the set in its various manifestations is a central feature of CENTER JENNY, where Trecartin fixates on notions of location and proximity but continually eschews any concrete grasp of them.
The cast ranges from collaborators familiar from previous works dating as far back as to A Family Finds Entertainment (2004) to professional actors from popular television sitcoms. Most belong to one of several groups of uniformed girls who are all named Jenny. One duo of Jennys wears earmuffs and pink hoodies branded “AUDITION;” another posse dons khaki shorts and tank tops covering up greenscreen-green bikinis; other, grittier girls are in sweats that read “W4$T3;” a more womanly group in neutral tones identify themselves as nameless proto-Jennys, held in limbo as they await matriculation into “The University.”
The various Jennys belong to a caste system in which iterations of the same, basic, archetypal girl differentiate themselves from one another based on how powerfully they have evolved. The notion of being “basic”, in fact, is a flattening condemnation the girls hurl back and forth at one another. There is a quantitative basis for self-actualization here, and, as if in a video game or any other kind of entertainment simulation, a level-based logic propels the Jennys as they graduate from nothing – “I don’t have a name yet, we’re not even on a level” – to level one, to level two, and beyond. This guides the plot as well, which shifts abruptly from one vignette to the next in an arc that escalates without concern for scenes that have been surpassed by more evolved ones.
The group dynamic recalls previous works like K-CoreaINC.K, in which a mass of characters in tan business attire arbitrarily compose a sort of model UN of delegates from around the world– USA Korea, Brazil Korea, Canada Korea, etc. However in CENTER JENNY, instead of a superficial heterogeneity spread across a group as a global microcosm, everyone is striving to be as similar as possible. Rather, everyone is mimicking an ideal, and the result among the successful ones is sameness.
This ideal has a name, “the source,” and one group of Jennys regard its influence as a kind of Icarus drive, ominously cautioning one girl that if she continues in her ways she “might end up in touch with the source.” Proximity to center is an absolute measure of potency. The possibility of being close enough to touch “the source” runs the risk of being consumed by the powers that that shape the world they live in. But any remove from the center connotes vulnerability. Gatekeeper Jennys brand underlings “left of center”—a designation that others wear proudly, seemingly for alternative positions along this otherwise oppressive, concentric continuum.
The movie’s sound and camera crew are often captured onscreen as peripheral characters that frame the interior action of the Jennys as a contained production or kind of ethnographic study. Authoritarian presences like televisions hosts and teachers are other non-Jennys, who reinforce the rigid, competition-based ecosystem in which they exert their development.
One girl, then another, declares herself Sara Source — a direct descendent of the humanity all the other vessels idolize. Whether either is truly Sara Source is as unclear as whether any of the people in the movie are people at all, or if they are post-human simulations emulating constructions of personality and community mythologized as a source code for social behavior.
This film was presented in collaboration with the 12th Biennale de Lyon.
Written, Directed, FX’d & Edited by Ryan Trecartin.
This work was originally created for the 55th International Art Exhibition entitled: Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace). Curated by Massimiliano Gioni. Organized by la Biennale di Venezia.
Courtesy the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.