Magazine article Artforum International

Girl, Interrupted: Johanna Burton on Tracy + the Plastics

Magazine article Artforum International

Girl, Interrupted: Johanna Burton on Tracy + the Plastics

Article excerpt

IT WAS UNCLEAR just when the show officially started. Nikki was the first band member to arrive. While the audience got settled, she was busy alternately drinking from a teacup and attempting the apparently vexing art of getting both arms into her jacket. Eventually Tracy and Cola showed up, visibly peeved and wanting to know why Nikki had missed band practice earlier in the day. She'd been practicing, Nikki replied a little haughtily: busy "practicing drinking tea like a lesbian," "practicing putting on my coat like a lesbian," "practicing standing next to a stranger like a lesbian." The list went on, but Cola interrupted, wanting to work on a drum riff she felt hadn't been smoothed out. She demonstrated, making the movements and sounds of drumming, magically enough, without the physical presence of any drums. So the show went, with occasional interludes of gorgeous, punk-infused, lilting-vocals songs emerging amid the usually out-of-sync, comical, strange, and endearing dialogues between the band members (all three talking at once or nobody talking at all), keyboard and drum riffs, and, above all, abundant dead-air time.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This forty-five-minute set last February at the Kitchen in New York City had been billed as Tracy + the Plastics' first full-length performance and video installation--though, under more impromptu circumstances, the band had played myriad venues around the country, from universities to alternative music spaces, bedrooms to queer discos, as well as the 2004 Whitney Biennial. At the Kitchen, however, the band didn't simply arrive with its array of equipment, set up in situ, and then pull up stakes postshow. Instead, an unusual site-specific environment had been laboriously constructed for the band's three-night run, insisting on a kind of aggressively indeterminate spatial intimacy uncommon in public spaces.

Tracy + the Plastics collaborated on this structure with sculptor Fawn Krieger, hoping to conceive a performance space in keeping with the band's ideologies. (What they had in mind: '70s consciousness-raising feminist groups holding meetings in dens as well as teenage punk bands practicing in basements.) The result: ROOM, 2005, a weird, cartoonlike rendering of the living room we all grew up in, complete with that carpet (scratchy but somehow comforting beige nylon pile), coaxed into swells that served as casual seating and bled indistinctly into the "stage" where Tracy and her sidekicks would perform. On entering ROOM, every visitor was asked to take off her shoes before settling in. Flintstone-esque foam spheres were scattered around the space, static body-size things that, like most everything else there, had no hard edges or ninety-degree angles (a choice described by the artists as embodying "nonhierarchical building" strategies). One of these forms served as a makeshift screen showing, at various points, projections of a black dog who emitted not barks but synthesized keyboard notes, or life-size, prerecorded shots of people, many of whom also happened to be sitting in the audience while the band played. Their images literally lifted and transplanted from periphery to center, these spectators were virtually inserted into the action--their behaviors of passively gazing, nervously gesturing, and just plain doing nothing rendered weirdly riveting when projected next to and interpellated by the band's "live performance," as it were.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I give "live performance" the scare-quote treatment here because the line between the live and the, well, not live is more complicated with regard to a Tracy + the Plastics performance than simply positing mediated image against unmediated one (as if an unmediated image could exist anyway). To begin with, did I mention that all three members of this queer-punk-feminist-girl band are played--simultaneously--by one woman? And that this woman's name isn't Tracy but Wynne Greenwood, a twenty-seven-year-old who came of age in Washington State when (largely male-dominated) grunge was at its peak? …

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