Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
“I believe that somewhere, there is something worth dying for, and I think it’s amazing,” philosophizes Skippy, one of the alter-egos that the young American artist Ryan Trecartin plays, into the camera in an early scene of Trecartin’s film A Family Finds Entertainment (2004). Selecting only one of the many possible levels upon which to read this roughly narrative film, this one sentence can be taken as being programmatic of what the whole story is about.
Skippy, a clownish but terrifyingly psychopathic homosexual boy, has locked himself in the upstairs bathroom of his family home during a wild party. Having been kicked out by his parents upon revealing his sexual preference, he attempts suicide, ignoring his siblings’ and friends’ pleas that he come out. Eventually Skippy emerges and heads outside, where he runs into a documentary filmmaker who decides to make a movie about him. Immediately thereafter, Skippy is hit by a car and, apparently, killed. Back inside the house, a hyperactive girl named Shin, also played by Trecartin, gets a call on her cell phone with the bad news. When she is finally able to tell the others what has happened, after having a hysterical fit, a motley crew plays music that seems to magically raise the young man from the dead and they adopt him as his new family.
Leaving out the happy ending for a moment, the story of Skippy is centered around death/dying. The triad of death motifs—the attempted suicide, the deadly car accident, and the magical resurrection—structures the narrative in three parts.
According to this, the subtext of part one could be interpreted as the depressive phase. As statistics indicate, the motivation for suicide is almost always a previous long-term depression. In Black Sun, a study about depression and melancholia by the French philosopher Julia Kristeva, depression is characterized by a denial of a normal childhood prehistory, or by what Kristeva calls “the denial of negation.” “Negation”—the usual infantile acceptance of the loss of oneness with the mother— is unconsciously refused by the depressive, who clings to a fantasy of union with the mother instead. The maternal object, however, turns out to be no object at all, but a “lost Thing,” as Kristeva calls it after Lacan, never to be recovered. The “lost Thing” is a “pre-object,” an archaic memory of identity with the mother before the inevitable emotional separation from her. The depression is a “mourning” for “the elusive pre-object” before separation, whose capture is impossible to achieve. The normal child “leaves the crib to meet the mother in the realm of representations”—that is, a world of language and symbols. Successful separation and the acquisition of language compensate for the mother’s loss. Depression is a sign for not knowing how to accept loss, and not knowing how to accept loss means not being able to mourn that loss. The consequence would then be: “In order to protect mother I kill myself.” But the suicide is not successful. Skippy flees from the site of his attempted suicide, which brings us to the subtext of phase two, in which he is killed accidentally by being hit by a car.
The important factor in this reading of the narrative is the action that Skippy takes by leaving his refusal position in the bathroom, and even by leaving the family home. Thus, speaking again on the symbolic level of psychoanalysis, he accepts the loss of the maternal object and steps into the world of language. Experiencing the non-identity of oneself (being split through language), the subject then falls into the emptiness of soleness. The encounter with the journalist can be read partially as the arrival in the world of language and also as the attempt to reunite the self through its doubling in the film.
The important factor in the accidental death which follows afterward is that Skippy symbolically has to face death in order not to be stuck in the impossible search for wholeness again. By entering the zone between two deaths, he accepts his finiteness, and thus becomes free to follow his own rules and desires. His resurrection is a sign of this “new life” that Skippy can now begin.
The same story could have been told as a process of emancipation with regard to Skippy’s sexuality and way of life—a freeing of himself from the need to be acknowledged by his parents, who also stand for the rest of society. However, such an approach would have failed to incorporate the strong symbolic use of the death metaphor that—consciously or not—the artist has referenced in this film.
Lives and works in Philadelphia, USA
|2007||Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York |
BIG ROOM NOW, Crane Arts, Philadelphia, USA
|2006||I Smell Pregnant, QED, Los Angeles|
|2007||USA Today, Royal Academy of Arts, London|
|2006||The Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York |
MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House, Los Angeles
Ryan Saylor, “Ryan Trecartin, Virtual Reality From Youtube to Saatchi,” in: Useless, no. 4 (November 2006).
Franklin Melendez, “Ryan Trecartin,” in: Soma, no. 21 (April 2006).
Christopher Knight, “Transformation Caught on Video,” in: The Los Angeles Times (February 24, 2006).
Dennis Cooper, “First Take. Dennis Cooper on Ryan Trecartin,” in: Artforum, no. 5 (January 2006).
Roberta Smith, “Art in Review,” in: The New York Times (June 10, 2005).