If you thought there might have been a certain atonality to this year’s Salone del Mobile then perhaps an out of the way trip to the Fondazione Prada would have set up an altogether variant tone to your destination.

The Milanese venue, a repurposed gin distillery, that now houses all things art was designed by OMA and opened in 2015, and as Rem Koolhaas has stated, ‘…is not a preservation project and not a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction – offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others.’

Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio
He is of course talking about the Fondazione but it could also be offered up as a perfectly pitched description of the new show, Whether Line, by American artists, Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin, which runs until the first week of August.

The project, commissioned over three years ago by the Fondazione, is a series of 19 movies incorporated into an enormous installation. The films thrive in a realm of over-saturation both literally and figuratively, and even so, the duo doesn’t only fret over every single frame.

Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio
Ryan: Every shoot that we do and every movie that we make, we approach it slightly differently, but it depends usually on how over time the script evolves. The script can sometimes be written by anyone on the team, which is made up of long-time friends and artists, partners and strangers, local casts and crews. Characters are carved out, the sets, the wardrobe and make-up, and even the casting process. The meeting point is when all the layers come together.

Lizzie: Often the actors haven't read the script prior to shooting so they are learning the lines as they go along. It is not ad-lib as much as it is real-time interpretation of what the script is.

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019 Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti Courtesy Fondazione Prada
Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019 Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti Courtesy Fondazione Prada
There is an absolute engagement with language, and as this series of movies was not subtitled, spectators take their cues from a combination of real-time prose, the visually unexpected and the viscerally unconventional. Their universe is a reinvention and a living taxonomy of cultures and genders. It is about the big, the unusual, and the extreme, which while watching it felt like a perfectly balanced and awkward embrace of the 21st century.

They refer to their work as ‘movie making’, and the settings have been referred to as ‘sculptural theatres’, which in this case is inspired by the 32-acre site they purchased in 2016, and where they built their studio.

The duo met as freshmen at the Rhode Island School of Design. Ryan studied video and Lizzie furniture. For almost two decades they have been coming up with scenarios imbibed by spaces from metropoles like Los Angeles or Miami, while over the past year their work has been on display in gallery and museum contexts in Dusseldorf and Oslo.

In the America of today there seems to be little room to criticise or any space for satire. There is the comfortably nice and ever-fixed line between commentary and offence. But then there is the idea of having a hell of a lot of fun. Their world, built on gender-fluid characters, and a fast-paced, seemingly uncontrolled dialogue, is fully aware and at the same time critically engaging.

Ryan: When filming we take a lot of risk and go all over the place, but there is just a lot of trust knowing that in the editing process we will know when it goes the wrong way. When we rewatch it and feel that it could be interpreted in ways that were not intended, or offensive, we add more content; we look for assistance, and to each other, because we know it is playing out a little awkward.

Lizzie: It’s very intuitive. But that’s also something the movies are talking about themselves. What are restrictions on language? Where is freedom?  What is self-imposed? It’s a huge theme in these particular movies, especially during this particular cultural moment.

Ryan: In some ways reflecting a weird version of what’s going on. We did move to a rural area, which is haunting this movie.

Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Whether it’s meta-narrative or just about the duo returning home, the reality is about going back to small-town Ohio. The property they bought is about 10 miles from Ryan’s brother, and the house that they built is patched together from a hodgepodge of styles and colours generated from an online catalogue of prefab pole barns, an architectural style that is popular in the area.

Ohio is also in the core of the manufacturing belt of the Midwest and Great Lakes, where 20th century industrialisation tightly took hold but then just as quickly slowed down at the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency (1977-1981), almost completely evaporating with his successor Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), and is now somewhat pejoratively referred to as the Rust Belt. Both born in 1981, it’s a period in time both artists grew up in.

Being from Ohio also means coming from a swing state, electorally speaking, or ‘wild swing state’ as Ryan puts it, meaning that it has picked the presidential winner in every election cycle except 1960 when it voted Nixon over Kennedy. It is the site of zealous campaigning from both major parties during election season and one of the most closely watched political climates in the nation. It is a place that serves not so much as a moral compass but more as a barometer to what many Americans are thinking at any given time.

Ryan: I’ve always thought of Ohio as a very creative place. Everywhere you go outside of Ohio you meet people from there. Have you ever heard the joke, Ohio’s best export is people. I’ve never felt like there was a lack of creativity here. There are a lot of weirdos doing their own thing and on their own terms. And I greatly value that. I think a lot of our bonding is because we are both from here. There’s a sort of imprint in our brains and is responsible for the way we structure language, or the way I write and the way Lizzie sculpts. And all these ways we can talk about it, then transfer it into music and language and physical forms. We drew all those things together and they are completely entangled. And something I feel that we can both always point to is that it is something about Ohio.

Lizzie: The space is one thing, but the other thing that we keep in mind with the output is the different phases. Right now the films are being shown in the first phase, which is an installation. And it is very much the first phase of the first edit. The build up of the installation was surprisingly short for the three years that we have been planning it. And after we had returned to Ohio, we found a place where we could turn our work and the way we think upside down: to challenge us, and really re-evaluate how and why we are doing things.

Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Currently 19 shoots are being shown at the Fondazione and when the installation comes down in August the shoots will evolve into a cinematic version that will premiere in the autumn. The series of movies shrieks in a very loud voice to the ‘back to land’ movement (when idealist Americans chose to leave cities) as a forgotten cultural space within the present-day era of identity politics and safe spaces.

Language is politics, entertainment is a form of cultural insistence, and art, well it has the luxury of evading meaning or sharing too much. In the case of Trecartin and Fitch they question common cultural experiences, and throw into sharp relief the current forms of an industrialised entertainment and politicised complex that wages war for our focus, our time, and maybe not so much as our money but as sacrificing our individuality.

Watching the movies, and seated (or rocking) in the sculptural theatre, a closed-off arena of forgetfulness, all at once you are transported into a season of imaginative play. What we are saddened and even horrified by in the everyday rhythms of the world is dissolved, and as we daze we lose ourselves.

In the world of Lizzie and Ryan, there are no spectators. There is us and them. A distinct form of Americanness comes out, a sophisticated form of truth from home to outside territories and back again, which changes our way of seeing by modifying our way of watching to threaten us just once more with a patchwork of curiosity stitched frame by frame with meaning.

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019

Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line, Fondazione Prada, Milan, until 5 August fondazioneprada.org

To coincide with the exhibition the Fondazione Prada has published a book on Fitch and Trecartin, edited by Chiara Costa with a foreward by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli.


Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019 Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti Courtesy Fondazione Prada
Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019 Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti Courtesy Fondazione Prada
Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019 Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti Courtesy Fondazione Prada