Writing Art History Since 2002

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White Cube | London

In the tradition of a director’s cut, which is so often an edit against the limitations of Hollywood, Candice Breitz has been evolving her very own artist’s cut of other people’s moving media. It has become her current signature and has given critical momentum to a rising star that shines down on this consummate pirate of popular culture. In two new video installations at London’s White Cube gallery, Breitz has taken her flagrant miscarriage of copyright to a new level of disassociation.Upstairs, Breitz shows Queen (A Portrait of Madonna) (2005), a 30 channel video installation that runs for just over 73 minutes. Queen is the third in a series of musical portraits, released concurrently with King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) in New York, and following on from Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley). Using advertisements and fan websites, Breitz has constituted Queen as an album of simultaneous performances by 30 zealous Italian Madonna fans, each of whom works their way through the pop diva’s greatest hits album, Immaculate Collection.Occupying a single wall, and built out of a grid of 30 monitors, the fans start each of these seeming screen tests perfectly synced, but as the personalisation of their deliveries shine through, the chorus becomes unequalised, resulting in a dislocated timing that is fantastically karaoke in its mimicry. While long and sometimes banal, Queen remains the crisper of the two installations on display, drawing the viewer into a series of vulnerabilities that are most notable in the performative breaks between the end of one song and the start of another.In the main gallery, Breitz shows here two-part video installation, Mother + Father (2005). Each comprises six video channels and carefully syncs Hollywood icons in the throes of parental turmoil. Mother has Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Street agonizing over moments in the maternal desperation of their characters, while Father has Dustin Hoffman, Tony Danza, Harvey Keitel, Steven Martin, Donald Sutherland and Jon Voigt confining themselves to the limits of their own paternal stoicism.There is no doubt that Breitz edits her works with absolute narrative clarity. And Mother + Father is no exception. Her careful sequencing contorts the revised performances into a paradox of emotional charge and carefully controlled timing. On the one hand, her choice of cuts from Hollywood’s archive is highly emotive, even stage-like in its photoshopping out of set details; on the other hand, Breitz lays down her sequence in an order that, in spite of this expressive charge, no one actor speaks over another. It makes for a damagingly crisp set of sequences.But in spite of the care taken with selection and sequencing, one cannot help but wonder whether Breitz is reinforcing the stereotypes she seeks to undermine. Her mothers are emotional, her fathers stoic. It feels like Breitz over-invests in and relies on her consummate editing skills to deliver a critical message that moves over these stereotypes. My lingering feeling in these dark rooms is one of a precise, even polemical, illustration of media stereotypes, rather than an act against the hegemony of these stereotypes.Breitz’s style is one that cuts a series of actors from their original scenes. She splices them together for view in an exhibition space whose different suppositions hopefully undermine the now invisible but still original context. Mother + Father, and to a lesser extent Queen, raises an important question: Does the media and, more particularly, its audiences – who are more and more turning out to be more MTV than Chomsky – really take itself and themselves as seriously as Breitz supposes?When her brilliant Diorama – a similar deliberation on moving media, produced while in residency at ArtPace in Texas – was shown at Asprey Jacques in 2003, it offered viewers a series of archival televisions carefully and awkwardly placed amongst a reconstructed domestic setting that included avocado green walls, thick fitted carpets, and agonizingly brown furniture. Viewers squatted on the ground, or peered unhinged on their tippy toes to view the disjointed sequences from the soap opera Dallas. It was a highly consummate choreography that brought the viewer into a tactile world of synthetic fabrics and false meaning. In this new showing at White Cube, Breitz’s constant re-texting trips over the rhetoric of the space, leaving the viewer abstracted from the possibilities of contexts that usually layer meaning and experience.Rory Bester

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