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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Candice Breitz: The Character

Candice Breitz is dissecting us societally, using cinema as a mirror that cuts surprisingly close to our collective core.
By Zac Millner-Cretney
January 16, 2013
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By Zac Millner-Cretney
January 16, 2013
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The Character is ostensibly about cinema — dissecting its construction, how we view it, and how it's absorbed and processed by an audience. The deeper you go down Candice Breitz's rabbit hole of mash-ups and remakes, however, the more depth you discover. Ultimately, Breitz is dissecting us societally, using cinema as a mirror that cuts surprisingly close to our collective core.

Thankfully, though, she doesn't lose sight of cinema's first and foremost obligation: to entertain. Some of her works are conceptually identical to YouTube fan-videos, albeit executed on a phenomenal scale. Him + Her (2008 and 2009), for example, comprises two separate works that intercut over 20 different performances from the careers of Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep respectively, creating cacophonous symphonies (have you seen three Jack Nicholsons yelling at each other before? It's pretty special) of completely contextless dialogue. What do you discover about the American psyche from seeing 30 years of performances from their male and female idols? Well, Jack is a little worried about his sexual performance, and Meryl, it has to be said, is a bit quick to tears.

Elsewhere, Breitz is imitating Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Lopez's performances from popular rom-coms in Becoming (2003). When we were kids, we didn't want to be actors, we wanted to be the characters from movies. Just watch King (2005), wherein 12 Michael Jackson fans imitate him in unison, each on their own screen.

But something changed when we grew up. Being "in the movies" is almost more magical than being a fictional character, something explored in the epic video trilogy The Woods (2012), which features children auditioning to camera, desperate for your approval; successful child actors spouting inspirational acting quotes; and hugely popular adult actors discussing the fuzzy line between their fictional and real selves (they're very comfortable being referred to by their characters' names). The Woods is a real heavyweight piece, a recasting of the documentary form in an artistic context, an artwork without any available comparison.

This is an enormously complex and accomplished exhibition, a fascinating and consuming body of work that would take days to completely consume. On one level, this is art for the YouTube generation — 20 screens to watch at once! — but it's also a sometimes disturbing meditation on the nature of screen entertainment that is hard to look away from.

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