You might not be familiar with Candice Breitz, but you’ll definitely be familiar with her subjects: Michael Jackson, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Meg Ryan, Madonna.
Breitz is a South African-born, Berlin-based photomedia and video artist, most well known for her explorations of celebrity, performance and identity. A new exhibition about to open at ACMI will be the first major solo show of Breitz’s work in Australia.
The show isn’t exhaustive (that would be impossible, all her recent works are massive, many-channel installations), but it does give you a sense of the breadth of her work and interests. The exhibition will also include a much anticipated, brand new artwork jointly commissioned by ACMI and the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.
In the large multi-channel installation for Him (1968-2008), Breitz has carefully sampled and remixed different performances by Jack Nicholson from 23 of his films. Across seven screens the many Nicholsons appear to talk to each other, asking their older and younger selves questions, talking over the top of each other, and occasionally echoing each other. In the companion pieceHer (1978-2009), Breitz gives Meryl Streep the same treatment.
In King (2005), Breitz does something similar for Michael Jackson, but this time she’s compiled footage of fans re-performing Jackson’s songs and dance moves. The result is a full-length video-version of the Thriller album, as sung by a chorus of Jackson’s devotees. While in Becoming(2003) Breitz herself does the re-enactments, carefully mimicking performances by actresses like Meg Ryan and Reese Witherspoon from a string of Hollywood’s cheesiest chick flicks.
For ACMI Curator Sarah Tutton, Breitz’s work “seems to be about how those identities or characters are created in popular culture, and how as an audience we’re a part of that process.” On the one hand, the videos are beautifully made celebrity portraits, but at the same time they also explore fandom, gender, race and other aspects of performed identity. By stripping away the context, Breitz puts these iconic performers under the microscope, revealing the stereotypes and clichés that they’re dependent on.
“There’s a political bent to her work,” agrees Tutton, “but she’s not didactic about it.” Tutton says a work like King, her favourite from the show, “is heaps of fun and very entertaining, but it has all these other layers to it as well. It can be as complex as you want it to be.”