December 2008, Candice Breitz @ Temporaere Kunsthalle
Candice Breitz, Him
, courtesy Temporäre Kunsthalle
Through February 2009
Candice Breitz’s work probes the mediation of the masses via a highly selective editing process that owes as much to music as it does to morphology. The three video installations currently on view in Berlin’s Temporäre Kunsthalle establish Breitz’s rhythmical flair, comic brilliance, and cerebral gifts – a rare package in any singular artist, but especially one using a “remix” approach that might come off as too academic or passé if the balance between content and technique isn’t properly upheld. That Breitz takes as her subject matter representations of masculinity in popular culture is also a bit risqué, as there is always the chance that the artist will inadvertently fall back on third-wave feminism clichés and leave us scraping our knees in the shallow waters of mere praxis.
Of the three installations, the most compelling is Father,
six channels of Hollywood actors playing “typical” dads, attempting to forge emotional norms for American masculinity. Breitz positions these dads – which include Join Voight, Tony Danza, Dustin Hoffman, Harvey Keitel, Steve Martin, and Donald Sutherland – against a black backdrop, selecting intimate moments in which each seems to run through the gamut of confusion to anger to jubilation and back again, then mixes, juxtaposes, and repeats into an intense and hilarious eleven minutes. Seeing these moments of action, isolated from the main narratives of the films they are taken from, you suddenly realize how unnatural
they are; the men we see on screen are no longer characters, but actors reciting lines that have been scripted for them to express a particular cliché of what is the correct way of playing a specific male role.
Candice Breiz, Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)
Courtesy Temporäre Kunsthalle
This thesis is somewhat intensified in Him,
a similar installation in which Breitz has narrowed her focus on the forty-plus year career of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is an actor who is admired and acclaimed for his eccentricities; indeed, his weirdness is the main motivating force behind his virtuosity; eccentric performers always grab our attention with their pronounced affectations, hence turning every role they are cast in into something of their own creation, rather than a writer’s or director’s. Through a schizophrenic sampling of Nicholson bits in twenty-three different performative guises, we get a sort of deranged monologue of Nicholson throughout the years, an old man conversing with his younger self and vice versa. Again, the conflicts of masculinity as a posited norm seem to come to the foreground on their own accord, without the artist’s needless prodding.
A more ambiguous project is the largest of the three installations, the twenty-five-channel Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon). The premise here is simple: Breitz found twenty-five John Lennon fans and filmed each of them, singly, singing their way through Lennon’s first solo album, 1970’s Plastic Ono Band. Lined up together, the fans form a sort of chorus. Just as the actors in the previous two installations are divorced from their context via a black background, so the singers in Working Class Hero are deprived of an immediately recognizable context, as the backing music can be heard by no one other than themselves (they are each wearing headphones.) The idea seems to be to celebrate Lennon as a cultural hero through those who continue to carry the torch of his music. Lacking the complex implications and artful editing of the first two projects, it is the weakest of the three installations on view.
Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio.
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