- Source: FRIEZE
- Author: MAGGIE LEE
- Date: MAY 19, 2022
- Format: PRINT AND DIGITAL
‘It Was Real!’ Artist Maggie Lee on Ryan Trecartin’s ‘A Family Finds Entertainment’
As we celebrate EAI's 50th anniversary at Frieze New York, the artist writes about her favorite, 'very trippy', video from the organization's archive
For over 50 years, Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) has supported video artists by preserving and distributing moving-image work. Artist Maggie Lee — who is featured in a screening program at Frieze New York celebrating the nonprofit’s contributions — remembers one of her favorite pieces from the archive, Ryan Trecartin’s A Family Finds Entertainment (2004).
Though I haven’t watched it in a while — in actually, like, 14 years — Ryan Trecartin’s A Family Finds Entertainment (2004) was my introduction to video art.
Flickr had just launched and everyone had their own website; the internet was cool and I liked music like Nurse with Wound and Susan Lawly. All of this, and what I was looking at and into, was so abrasive and abject. But also not. I was a 20-something-year-old, nice college student studying fine arts in New York.
Trecartin’s video is very trippy. He made it for his thesis project at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It’s about this troubled teenager, Skippy, who is played by Trecartin. Skippy locks himself in the bathroom during a party at his house. Meanwhile, the party-goers, played by Trecartin’s classmates, have dissociated conversations. Everyone is styled in thrift-store clothing and cakey makeup. Skippy cuts himself with a kitchen knife and later gets fatally hit by a car. It’s pretty messed up, but then he comes back to life when his friends’ band plays. One influence seems to be John Waters’s Pink Flamingos (1972).
The first time I took 4-AcO-DMT was on Halloween, in a mansion deep in Brooklyn, when I was on a date. My date was wearing a towel doused in “corpse scent,” which is used for police-dog training, and I was wearing this bat shirt with goth lace wings. The walls were covered in fake blood and the Victorian furniture with plastic covers, and there were freaky jars everywhere. I sat quietly in the 1930s, teal bathroom as I began to peak. Everyone looked like a character from Trecartin’s video. I was officially having an experience. There was this sickly, pale woman in an old-timey Gunne Sax dress and bonnet covered in blood.
She helped me, and I was so scared, but also so excited to tell her that this was A Family Finds Entertainment.
Family is actually poison. In one scene, Skippy comes out as gay to his deranged parents and they encourage him to find a new home. How rude.
In my favorite scene, Shin (also played by Trecartin) and Phalangena (Alison Powell) are making a healthy, vitamins-and-water-bottle sculpture with hot glue. Shin explains: “It’s called Go to Whole Foods, and if you don’t like what you see, change it! It’s yours, health is a universal concern, health is yours — go to Whole Foods and take what is yours.” I thought that was really beautiful. I like beautiful things.
The sets in the video are complex artworks in their own right. Some of the walls are made of wrapping paper. The performances are satirical and nonsensical: 2000s dada.
This work is so RISD. How fun would it be to film and be on set with your friends? It’s so do-it-together and underground. It’s special: everyone speaks in this hyper-specific way and has a certain attitude, which I like to call “Ryanism.” Recently, I looked at the photos I took with my Canon ELPH at that long-ago Halloween party and realized that the characters from A Family Finds Entertainment were actually there. It was real!
Founded in New York in 1971, Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) is a nonprofit arts organization and leading resource for video and media art.
This article first appeared in Frieze Week, May 2022 under the headline ‘In The Mix’