Accidental Colour, Performative Colour: Video Art’s New Disruptors

Carolyn L. Kane


Colour is flippant; unreliable and notoriously difficult to work with. It resists being placed in a static chart, frame, or dyed into a “colourfast” fabric, giving way to oxidization, fading, and changing their appearance based on their surroundings. However, in an age of HD digital video, working with colour – from the perspective of an artist – has never been more convenient and user friendly. Thus, one may wonder how disruptive colours show their face today? This article answers this by turning to the work of American video artist Ryan Trecartin. Trecartin’s fashionable use of digital media, fast-paced editing, belligerent makeup and costume, and broken dialogue all echo his unforgiving colour juxtapositions (making him a “grinder and mixer of multicolour drugs,” as Plato put it in reference to artists in general). This article discusses Trecartin’s work and the way in which it sanctions the disruptive colours of a newer world of selfies, social media apps, the Internet, and automated effects plug-ins through three strategies rooted in categorical transgression (in favour of noise and ambiguity); an aesthetic category I theorize as “accidental colour”; and a use of whacky stops and pauses – in the tradition of the avant-garde – to incite subject disorientation and criticality.


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