Monday, March 4, 2013

Identity Politics: Breitz, Kurgan, Gratrix & Pokroy

The Interview, Breitz (2012)

A black cloth hangs over the entrance to the Goodman Gallery, subtly announcing that Candice Breitz’s new exhibition will entail an immersive filmic experience. The blacked-out-white-cube engenders a different kind of detachment; of the type that occurs in cinemas where you temporarily forget where you are and who you are.  What transpires on the screen, or screens in this case, overwrites the present, suspending you in a state of limbo, between the real and unreal, being there, and not being there.

Breitz’s filmic trilogy The Woods, the centrepiece of this show, explores this territory, though the Berlin-based South African artist is interested in how it manifests from the perspective of the actor. It’s not the actor’s on-stage performance she is concerned with, as she has done before, but his/her off-stage performances – contexts where they present their “real” selves to the camera, such as at an audition, press junket or interview. Further complicating this project Breitz doesn’t observe actual instances where these conversations might occur, but reconstructs them with child actors and two adult actors who have been typecast as child actors.

Before she became an internationally recognised artist, locally she gained notoriety for making work dealing with issues of race, gender and identity. In her controversial 1996 Rainbow series she spliced pornographic images of white women with ethnographic images of black women in traditional garb.
The series caused a stir. She was criticised for conflating or equating white female identity with that of black. It was a new democracy and Breitz was one of many artists questioning, imploding and challenging racial barriers inculcated via apartheid ideology - work dubbed as identity-themed art.

This exhibition very subtly links up with her old, supposedly politically-incorrect work. In The Woods film trilogy she appears still to be coming to grips with identity, how it’s constructed and influenced, and she also evinces an interest in the conditions in which two separate identities are able to flow into one another. In a way she is still splicing identities together. She is simply more sophisticated at doing it. Her subjects are no longer contrived, hybrid beings as her porno-traditional women were - they are real people.