From Canaan Township, Athens County, to Milan, Italy, is 4,426 miles. Culturally, the distance could be even farther.
But the two places have something in common now that Athens-based international artist/filmmakers Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin’s major exhibition has opened at the prestigious Fondazione Prada in Milan. The centerpiece of a large-scale multi-media installation, dubbed “Whether Line,” is a film that was shot at the mainly outdoor set on South Canaan Road, east of Athens, this past year.
The exhibition opened with a press review on Friday, April 5, and will remain up until Aug. 5.
According to a news release on the arts foundation’s website, “Commissioned by Fondazione Prada, (Fitch and Trecartin’s) large-scale multimedia installation represents the first output of a creative process begun in late 2016, aimed at realizing a new movie that investigates the perpetual promise of ‘new’ terrain and the inherent instability of territory.”
The release contains more abstract gymnastics along those lines (after all, we’re talking about the international art world here)…
“Taking the idealized rurality endemic to back-to-the-land ideologies as a conceptual starting point, the project blurs the boundaries between different forms of storytelling and experiences, such as films, video exhibitions and art installations…
The release recounts how the two artist/filmmakers (aka video artists) relocated their home and studio to Athens County, “in the Ohio countryside, where they conceived the framework for the new movie as a haunted map: a location with its own will and a constellation of permanent built sets which include a large hobby-barn commissary, a lazy river, and a forest watchtower, occupied by a cast of characters who are simultaneously agents and subjects of the map itself.”
In a more recent release, Fondazione Prada states that the artists “contort these sites through dislocations of time and memory to explore the notion of borders and boundaries – existential, psychosocial, and physical.”
It says the same applies to Milan, where “the sculptural theaters conceived for the Podium, the Deposito and the external courtyard of Fondazione Prada’s complex, where the artists stage an immersive intervention in which visitors navigate through constructions and objects, following a unique and partly directed path.”
LAST JUNE, THE ATHENS NEWS visited the film set, then loosely called “the lazy river project” and published a lengthy article about the project.
At the time, the most remarkable aspect of the story was the film set’s main feature, what was planned to be a fully operational “lazy river” water park feature.
When The Athens NEWS visited the construction site on June 18, 2018, the concrete had just been poured into the excavated lazy river foundation, and construction on a picturesque blue hobby-barn/commissary, also part of the film set, was nearly complete.
Trecartin and Fitch talked at length about the project, though they declined to provide details of the film or overall multimedia project that would be the culmination of their work, other than to confirm that the finished work would be unveiled in “southern Europe” in early 2019.
On Dec. 20, the identity of that foundation was revealed in a press release by the Fondazione Prada in Milan.
Trecartin and Fitch purchased the 32-acre property along South Canaan Road, with its house and outbuildings, in November 2016 for $215,000 according to county records. They said they’d been working on the lazy river project since 2016.
According to the biographical notes accompanying the FP news release, both Fitch and Trecartin still live and work in Athens, Ohio (their place in Canaan Township is actually a few miles to the east of Athens).
The bio continues, “Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin have been working together since they met at Rhode Island School of Design in 2000. Since then, their collaborative work has been included in exhibitions at major institutions around the world, including: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA (2006); MoMA PS1, Long Island City, USA (2011); the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France (2011–12); the Venice Biennale, Italy (2013); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2014–15), and Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway (2018).
The April 5 opening of “Whether Line” received ample coverage in the international arts press, including on websites for the Wall Street Journal Magazine, World Art Foundations, Art Daily, Design Scene and The Art Newspaper.
The opening press review for “Whether Line” was captured in a video released April 8 by Vernissage TV, which describes itself as “the internet’s unique TV art project.” You can find the video by Googling “Vernissage” and "Whether Line” or clicking here online.
THE VIDEO STARTS BY following an attendee into the press review, as she walks through a large open room filled with widely spaced, interlocking green, metal bars that rise high above a roped walkway. She then walks through an open-air tunnel of chain-link fencing. All during these opening moments one can hear childlike-voices speaking unintelligibly (to this listener at least). This apparently is part of the soundtrack to the movie that was filmed near Athens.
Leaving the tunnel, the attendee walks into an immense warehouse-like building that contains a smaller (but still relatively large) new building with a peaked roof and a wooden frame outside of what looks like a metal or laminate structure. A large wooden platform sits atop the roof, where people are standing.
The attendee continues into that second building, walks down a featureless hallway, arriving at a small auditorium where the film is playing on a large screen. About 10 viewers are watching the movie while sitting on identical wooden rockers, spaced well apart.
The film itself shows two adults dressed as women, in what appear to be modest 19th century schoolgirl fashion, frills and lace and long sleeves, speaking to each other in the same high-pitched voices as heard before. They’re chattering at each other, with attitude, while standing in a wooded area that looks like southeast Ohio.
More scenes from the film, both live action and animation, are interlaced with footage of attendees ascending a stairway to the platform, and looking down through an open section of the roof into another viewing room where different parts of what’s presumably the film are playing on screens set into three or four walls of the room.
NEITHER FITCH NOR TRECARTIN could be reached for comment about their installation opening in Milan.
However, in the Fondazione Prada news release, the two artists do talk about filming on their land in rural Athens County, including how the movie set differs from the artist/filmmakers’ previous sets.
“First, in that it is very much engaged with the outdoors, even the interior spaces are all sort of in relation to what is outside of them,” Fitch explains.
She then provides a partial answer to the lingering question – what happens to the very large and likely expensive physical features of the film set now that the movie has been completed and released? Who, for example, owns their very own lazy river?
“The other major way the Athens set is unique is that it is built to stay, rather than as a façade,” Fitch confirms in the release. “We want to make the space accessible in some way to visitors. In the long term, we also have a vision of running a small residency program on the property, where people could come stay and do their work in this unique setting.”
In the same release, Trecartin talks about the challenges of making the film this past year. “The setting also has made us think about the movie in a much more expanded way than we ever have before,” he says. “Because the set builds were all behind schedule due to the crazy weather, we ended up needing to shoot alongside the construction and having a lot of the original ideas of how the set was going to be used change. We were also having some drama with our neighbor, so a lot of content around concepts of territory, property and land started to merge with many of the early ideas we were already exploring. Consequently, the movie got a lot darker in many ways. But all the difficulties and obstacles we encountered working with the land were huge gifts to furthering the conceptual framework of the project.”
THE “WHETHER LINE” EXHIBITION will be completed with a movie retrospective of Trecartin’s 21 films to be screened at Fondazione Prada’s Cinema. Fitch helped with these films as an actor and in other roles.
The release said the project is accompanied by a book published by Fondazione Prada “focusing on Fitch and Trecartin’s expansive collaborative practice that began in 2000.”