Venice Biennale

Look who’s talking: Privilege + representation in the tales of other people in Candice Breitz’s Love Story

12 June 2017

A large projection of Candice Breitz‘s Love Story plays on the ground floor of Berlin’s KOW Gallery. Running April 29 to July 30, it shows the familiar faces of two professional film stars, Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore recounting shocking stories of war, violence, starvation, and abuse written by other people. Without having met the real survivors of these events, they attempt to produce empathy in the viewer by playing convincing characters. The protagonists convey uncomfortable narratives; their identity and the quick cuts between the two scripts confuses their account — it leaves the story noticeably separated from reality.

The actors are reading the scripts of six refugees currently living in Berlin, New York, or Cape Town. Underground, screens show the stories told by the asylum seekers in their own voice.  Each has a different culture, background and language; each is fleeing a different horror from a different part of the world reminding the viewer that a ‘typical refugee journey’ does not exist. Sarah Ezzat Mardini recounts her heroic swim across a channel from Turkey to a Greek island to save 20 lives aboard a sinking raft. Luis Ernesto Nava Molero is a political dissident and LGBTQi+ activist from Venezuela. Jose Maria Joao tells of his youth as a child soldier in Angola, abducted at the age of 13 by a warring militia.

Candice Breitz Love Story (2017) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + KOW, Berlin.

Born in Johannesburg, Breitz has been chosen to represent South Africa in this year’s Venice Biennale, where Love Story runs through to November 26. Given the prominence of the theme of representation in her work, viewers must ask why the artist (who is not a refugee) should be raising these questions, or if this is another instrumentalization of marginal bodies for a sensationalist production. Recently, a group of activists in Greece kidnapped a sculpture by Roger Bernat during documenta 14’s controversial Athens exhibition in a stand against the exoticization of refugees. Too frequently artists make works about current global conflicts, or identity battles belonging to others, ignoring the context of their own advantageous position in relation to the work’s content. Breitz, in a complex staging of the videos and stories, reflects the individual narratives and their shocking personal anecdotes back towards the receiving audience. Only when exhibited in an art gallery, selected by an artist and recorded professionally do we hear these biographies.

Breitz’ practice has consistently reflected on the creation of identity through cinematic convention. In ‘Working Class Hero (2006), 25 people were filmed singing the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band song of the same name. By focusing on the fans rather than the icon, Breitz examined how pop and celebrity shapes the culture of their admirers. In Love Story, her own identification is central to the set of films as Breitz again examines how media and cinema affect the lives of everyday people.

Candice Breitz Love Story (2017) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + KOW, Berlin.

At the entrance of KOW, a three-minute video called ‘Profile’ introduces the exhibition on a small screen. The project can be seen as a response to the way in which Breitz perceives her identity within current socio-political norms, and her non-European perspective gives a valuable intersectional approach to identity and crisis. Breitz addresses her own embodiment of her country by organizing a group of emerging South African artists to read her biography, mixed with the other artists’ own phrases. Several sentences read awkwardly as black South Africans read out “this white body cannot represent South Africa,” reflecting a focus on the radical social and racial divides still lingering in a post-apartheid society. In ‘Profile,’ Breitz addresses not only her ability to represent her country but also analyses how her own story can be misrepresented by casting and identity.

In the hands of celebrities Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore, the stories of refugees are re-interpreted via familiar white faces and standardized North American accents. Baldwin can typically be seen on television impersonating Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. This illustration of radical free speech is unimaginable to the people he portrays in ‘Love Story’ — some of whom are seeking asylum in the United States.

Breitz thus creates a complex personal interaction between actor and ‘Other’ through extreme contrasts in identity and visibility. The end result might be a nihilistic analysis of contemporary media, but it is nevertheless self-critical of the system that it inhabits and the institutions that remain firmly fixed within the skewed identity politics of empathy. Speaking with Zoé Whitley on the ‘Love Story‘ title, the artist found something in common between all interviewees, which can only be summed up as a passion to continue living freely against all adversity.

“There is an intensity that they all share… An insistence on the possibility of transcending dire circumstances, a refusal to be bowed by oppression, a striving — at times against all odds — towards more liveable lives, the utter conviction that things could be better elsewhere. I can only describe this force — which manifests over and over again in the stories shared by the interviewees — as something like love; a love for life, a love for family, a love for god, a love for expression, a love for being on this fucked-up planet despite everything.”**

Candice Breitz’s ‘Love Story’ is on at Berlin’s KOW Gallery, running April 29 to July 30, and the South African Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale, running May 13 to November 26, 2017.

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Pizza Pavilion (2015) documentation

19 August 2015

Pizza is the new religion. It holds the same cultural capital and promises the same healing powers for millennials that organized religion once did for their ancestors. The holy trinity is now divined in the three edges of a single slice, and its iconography is everywhere. It is the “universal, omnipresent, truly globalized concept”, the “symbolic hub and social equalizer”, “the super meme of our times”, “the Internet of foods”. It should come as a little surprise then that the 56th Venice Biennale has hosted the first international pavilion dedicated to pizza “as a cultural canvas”, curated by Paul Barsch and Konstanze Schütze and inevitably called the Pizza Pavilion, running May 8 to November 22.

In a artistic reversal of sorts, the Pavilion applies artistic strategies to an everyday phenomenon, creating a site-specific situation piece that reflects contemporary paradigms and their various manifestations. “It is,” as the press release states, “a practical philosophical endeavour that turns the working local pizzeria, Pizza Al Volo, into an international Pavilion”.

Anthony Antonellis, ‘Bauhaus Pizza’ (2015). Install view. Photo by Paul Barsch & Simona Lamparelli. Pizza Al Volo, Venice.

Participating in the piece are 19 different artists of the “post-digital” generation, invited to compose and title their own personal pizzas for a ‘Pizza Pavilion’ menu to be made available alongside the pizzeria’s regular one, including Santiago TaccettiLorna Mills, Alma Alloro and Tilman Hornig. The presence of the artist-produced pizzas, available for order, thereby turn the Italian pizzeria into an “art production studio and gallery, where one can witness the creation of an contemporary “artwork” and can buy and consume it directly”.

Exhibition photos, top right.

PIZZA PAVILION was on at Venice Biennale from May 8 to November 22, 2015.

Header image: Santiago Taccetti, ‘Share The Venetian Love’ (2015). Install view. Photo by Paul Barsch and Simona Lamparelli. Pizza Al Volo, Venice.

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Ryan Trecartin premiered a new film in Venice

3 June 2013

As Chris Kraus said at a recent panel discussion at the RCA, “The suburbs are the last ethnographic frontier.” Arguably at the vanguard exploring that borderline is Ryan Trecartin, one of the most influential contemporary artists working, who introduced his audience to the brilliantly dark and vapid landscapes of Pasta and friends years ago.

Since then, his approach and aesthetic has had an update, presenting his as yet unnamed new film at the Massimiliano Gioni-curated The Encyclopedic Palace of the Arsenale pavilion, open to the public since Saturday, June 1. DIS Magazine published some behind the scenes images to celebrate and it’s looking like the coloured contacts and virtual vistas of the future dominate his New World dystopia. You can see the images on the DIS Magazine website. **

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Turning Back Time

17 June 2011

For as long as people could hear, music and sound have been an integral part of human expression. It has an ability to communicate something in a way that nothing else could, which is probably why this year’s Venice Biennale had so little of it. That is, it’s hard to pin a didactic panel to a particular tone or frequency, and with critical theory being such an important part of critical discourse, something that can’t be explained in words is going to be largely ignored.

Curious, considering that music, as a medium, outdates that of film and interactivity –both of which featured far more prominently at the Biennale than any other.

still from Marclay's remix (photos by Paula Cooper Gallery)

Christian Marclay gets it though. Moving on from his no wave sound collages that made him a cult figure in music circles, he’s taken a 24-hour reel to real time film montage for The Clock and been awarded the Biennale’s prestigious Gold Lion in the process. In sifting, compiling and editing a day-long montage of film scenes referencing time –each one synchronized with the local time –Marclay reportedly developed calluses on his fingers in the process. Viewers felt compelled to check their watches every time a clock flashed across the screen or a character told the time. Almost like watching contemporary pop music in motion, The Clock is like an extended YouTube video.

Continue reading Turning Back Time

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