Advertisement

Candice Breitz

KOW, Berlin, Germany

Candice Breitz’s ‘Love Story’ makes the most of KOW’s brutalist gallery space. On entering the first floor, you are presented with Profile (2017), a short film in which a diverse array of speakers claims to be the South African artist, making contradictory statements about her identity: ‘My name is Candice Breitz’, ‘I am a boy’, ‘I’m black’, ‘I am white as Tipp-Ex’. It keys you in to the show’s central conceit: notions of identity challenged by people telling stories that are not their own. But already, you can see down onto the ground floor, where booming voices emanate from behind a black curtain the height of a two-storey house.

Behind the curtain, you are confronted with a cinema-sized screen showing actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore performing refugee narratives. Love Story (2016) cuts with bewildering speed between the actors and the disparate stories they tell, but after a few minutes, six discrete narratives emerge: a transgender hijra from India; a gay Venezuelan academic; a female swimmer from Syria; an atheist from Somalia; a former child soldier from Angola; a victim of sexual violence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Moore and Baldwin sit in director’s chairs in front of green-screens and tell these stories directly to the camera, asking the interviewer questions, producing tears, referring to themselves in the third person: ‘Alec, people will listen to you. You’re famous.’

1_julianne_moore_candice_breitz_love_story.jpg

Candice Breitz, Love Story (still), 2016, 7-Channel Installation, Julianne Moore. Courtesy: the artist and KOW, Berlin 

Candice Breitz, Love Story (still), 2016, 7-Channel Installation, Julianne Moore. Courtesy: the artist and KOW, Berlin

As we listen, the stories intertwine thematically, from perilous Mediterranean crossings and political violence, to doubts about the interview process itself. But just as you begin to make sense of the narratives, you notice tiny spot-the-difference changes between scenes. Moore wears a heavily bejewelled bangle, but a few frames later it’s gone. Baldwin is wearing sunglasses, then an allergy bracelet and a small gold brooch, then a leather wristband. You become disconcerted by tiny differences between shots that you can’t quite believe have been staged: red eyes, Vaseline-covered lips, stubble missed while shaving.

Descending into a dark basement, you meet, on smaller screens, the six refugees whose stories are being performed above. The way you encounter their ‘real’ narratives has been completely changed by what you have just experienced. The refugees have taken on a subtle celebrity; before you hear them speak, you recognise them by the jewelled bracelet, the sunglasses, the brooch. As they tell you their stories, you are forced to compare the real speakers with those you had imagined when listening to the actors above. The idiosyncrasies of their spoken English have been edited out in Baldwin and Moore’s performances, making you aware of the extent to which specific voices prejudice your understanding of a given story. And as you face Shabeena Saveri (a transgender hijra, but also a smartly dressed academic) and Sarah Mardini (a swimmer and Syrian refugee, but also an ostensibly typical German teenager with long hair and a denim jacket), the subtleties of your prejudice are highlighted further. Your sense of authenticity has also been changed. Set once more in front of green-screens that allude to the artificiality of film, these ‘authentic’ narratives also feel staged somehow, because you are now primed to notice how mediated a recorded interview really is.

The concept of privileged, white American film stars speaking the words of real refugees, and thus making us reflect on who we listen to and why, has the potential to be, if not offensively simplistic, then certainly unsubtle. But Breitz transcends the potential for banality by not presenting her work as a closed statement. At an hour and a quarter, visitors might sit through Moore and Baldwin’s film, but not the 22 hours of footage in the basement. This means that even the most committed visitor, having heard everything the stars have to say, is forced to abandon the real speakers before they have finished telling their stories. It is a necessarily uncomfortable experience in an unexpectedly subtle exhibition.

Candice Breitz, Love Story (still), 2016, 7-Channel Installation, Farah Abdi Mohammed. Courtesy: the artist and KOW, Berlin

Ben Fergusson is a writer and translator and teaches at the University of Potsdam. His debut novel The Spring of Kasper Meier won the Betty Trask Prize and the HWA Debut Crown and in 2015 he was shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister was published by Little, Brown in 2017.

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017
Advertisement

Most Read

Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
The disconnect between public museum programming and private hire couldn’t be starker – it’s time for the arts to...
In further news: Angela Gulbenkian sued over Kusama pumpkin; and Pussy Riot re-arrested immediately after release from...
With Art Week in town, a guide to the best exhibitions to see, from sonic surveillance to Ronnie van Hout’s showdown...
Moving between figuration and abstraction, the New York-based painter and teacher made work about in-between spaces and...
Trump’s State Department is more than 3 months late in announcing its national pavilion – testament to the chaos...
The continued dominance of UK-US writers makes a mockery of the Man Booker’s ‘global outlook’
The fashion photographer has been accused on Twitter of ripping off another artist – with both represented by the same...
Katharina Cibulka has stitched ‘As long as the art market is a boys’ club, I will be a feminist,’ across her alma mater...
The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018