Candice Breitz creates thought-provoking video installations that deepen our insight into individuality, community, and the attention economy. The artist’s political engagement was forged by her experience of growing up in South Africa during the final decades of apartheid. Breitz’s artistic process has often involved collaborating with individuals and groups who have experienced social, economic, or political precarity, wielding tools of the entertainment industry to amplify consequential stories that have failed to elicit media attention. Employing unexpected stagings and narrative techniques, Breitz explores the potential impact of storytelling on empathy, attention, and political engagement.
Love Story (2016) is a seven-channel video installation that was shown at the Venice Biennale when Breitz represented South Africa in 2017. The work shares the first-person accounts of six people who fled their home countries due to oppressive conditions. Each interviewee is seated in front of a green screen and addresses an eye-level camera shot. The six stories are recounted twice: first by the person who lived the experience and subsequently, in a single-channel montage, by American actors Alec Baldwin or Julianne Moore. Encountering the same story told by vastly different narrators, the viewer experiences how the perceived familiarity of celebrity influences one’s emotional engagement; it is easy to extrapolate how mass media shapes the course of empathy, political action, and thus lived reality. As Breitz has stated, “Love Story is as much about how we receive stories, as it is about the stories themselves.”
A sequel to Love Story, the video installation TLDR (2017) grew out of interviews with a community of sex work activists in Cape Town as part of a long-term exchange between Breitz and the non-profit advocacy organization SWEAT (Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce). In the first room of the thirteen-channel video installation, a 12-year-old child recounts the recent debate regarding the decriminalization of sex work, with opposing viewpoints represented by Amnesty International and a coalition of prominent Hollywood actresses and sex work abolitionists. A chorus composed of eleven sex workers responds to the boy’s narration, punctuating his story with in unison refrains, choreography, and props, including celebrity face masks, protest signs, and oversized emojis. The second part of TLDR features ten interviews with sex workers as they speak directly to the camera, recounting their stories and experiences. Employing a myriad of entertainment techniques, from ancient Greek theater to an infectious hip hop soundtrack and tight film editing, Breitz commits to telling a complex story, brimming with facts and information, with the promise of keeping her audience’s attention.
Breitz was in residence at the end of 2021 to prepare her new work Whiteface. The concept departs from a collection of video clips, gathered by Breitz over the years, of white people talking about race. The speakers range from political figures to vloggers. In the final video installation, Breitz ventriloquizes the statements of these individuals while wearing a pressed white shirt, white contact lenses, and a platinum blond wig. Detached from their original speakers, the monologues lay bare the vocabulary of whiteness, as well as a rising anxiety, as the speakers attempt to grapple with subjects such as white privilege and white guilt. Whiteface debuted at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, in June of 2022.