Disjoint realities: Ryan Trecartin and Leigh Ledare (continued)

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Ryan Trecartin

While Trecartin's cast of amateur actors turn in varying performances, their ease with the camera is clear. Compared with the (genuinely) awkward screen presence of early Paul MacCarthy, or even John Waters' slightly bemused, hesitant casts, the distinction becomes striking.

For this generation - and increasingly the rest of us - proximity to the lens via (for example) an ever-ready cellphone is simply a way of life, the distribution and consumption of self a given. Warhol's prescient 15 minutes of fame has never been so easily within reach, and everyone wants a piece of it.

The 21st century fundamentality of the confessional/reality film format is key to Trecartin's video practice, and his casts convey its rythms with practised ease.

For Ledare's mother, a brief period of minor celebrity drew to a close as her ballet career ended.

It may well be that this short exposure to accolade is something Tina is either unwilling or unable to relinquish; a possibility that provides a disconcerting caveat to both Ledare's and Trecartin's work.

Fame and its trappings can prove dangerous, particularly if, once tasted, they disappear forever. Our longing for exposure potentially comes at a price.

Leigh Ledare

Tina's own writings certainly support this hypothesis. Overly preoccupied with the theme of public recognition, a scribbled note on a napkin states that she'd like to be "a writer like Marguerite Duras and Anais Nin" (the erotic connection is clearly relevant).

More telling, however, is her exasperated commentary on the supposed iniquities of modelling: "I do find it difficult that the model often doesn't get any credit for... her participation. She's at least 50% of the picture."

While perfectly reasonable comments, they also bring us closer to Tina's personal expectations, which in turn provide possible answers to a fundamental question: why the need to reveal herself so explicitly?

In Ledare's archive, the theme of exposure in its most literal sense is, of course, embodied through his mother's decision to quite literally bare all for his camera - a project which, crucially, she herself instigated.

In an interview, Ledare recalls how he returned home during college vacations to find his naked mother at the door, an assertion that "... what she was up to in her life at that time centered around attempts to find an economic means to get by... She was basically saying that she was expressing something with her body, divulging this to me, and saying 'deal with it or don't deal with it.'"

Leigh Ledare

Through this action, Tina appears to align accessibility to her body with the revelation of various truths, and Ledare's project, years in the making, originates in this moment.

The complicity between son and mother, too readily / easily branded oedipal or obscene / disturbing, becomes a far more complex study in vulnerability. Tina is a woman exposed to various pressures, both real and imagined, all of which threaten to extinguish an increasingly fragile sense of self.

As Ledare states, "I see her as a figure reacting to these broader cultural forces: economics, sexuality, and a woman aging... It's also me choosing to not revoke an affirmation of who she is as a person; me being her son, and having a tolerance for that."

This emphasis on fragility and struggle is, in fact, as fundamental to the archive as the depiction of his mother's defiantly sexual persona. Shots of Tina convalescent after accidents, braced and bandaged (above left), reveal physical trauma, but hint, too, at psychological fracture. Later portraits depict an even more unsettling reality: with her flame-red hair faded, and showing increasing signs of age, Tina appears a melancholy, uncharacteristically subdued figure.

Leigh Ledare's portrait of his mother ultimately invites the viewer to carefully sift through the subtleties of a life, seeking out those nuances too easily submerged by the work's overtly sensational nature. Selfhood, we're reminded, is an endlessly complex construct: an assertion as fundamental, in its way, as Trecartin's fragmented 'virtual' realities.

Through the work of both artists, old media meets new in a common quest to explore the realities and repercussions of the contemporary confessional trope.

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