Candice Breitz, ‘Iron Maiden Monument, Berlin, June 2007’20, 07
Digital c-print mounted on Diasec
70 7/8 x 168 1/8 in. (180 x 427 cm)
Candice Breitz, ‘Abba Monument, Berlin, June 2007′, 2007
Digital c-print mounted on Diasec
70 7/8 x 141 1/8 in. (180 x 358.4 cm)
The Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson fans were easy to spot, the Abba fans, less so. But, outside the White Cube gallery last night, all members of an unlikely bunch of visiting Germans were keen to talk of the travails of being the subjects of Candice Breitz’s most recent project.
“She made us say ’6-6-6′ instead of ’1-2-3′ on the countdown to the flashbulb’”, said an anxious young girl dressed in fingerless leather gloves and a denim jacket covered with Iron Maiden sew-on patches. “It wasn’t an easy shoot at all; we were given no instructions apart from ‘Do something different than everyone else’ – so I just wore some silver foil; I draped it over me like Anni-Frid and Agnetha did with the Swedish flag one time”, said a man standing close by, who was part of the Abba community.
They’d all made the journey across Europe in order to see themselves, in high gloss colour, on the walls of one of the most famous galleries in the world.
White Cube’s Mason’s Yard is home for the next five weeks to three of Breitz’s large format digital C-print photographs that were completed in Berlin this June.
The ‘Monuments’ take a simple idea – finding a pop or rock icon’s biggest fans through fly-posting concerts and advertising on the internet, gathering said fans together then taking photographs of them. The outcome, however, is not as undemanding as such a simple documenting process might suggest.
Breitz is well known for looking at how popular culture affects us all and the ‘Monuments’ continue her anthropological survey of the devotee. They are melancholic (and funny) portraits of how someone that a fan has never met can overwhelm their personality and become “an ever-present soundtrack to their life”.
There’s Breitz the aloof voyeur at work here for sure – and, in all fairness, who wouldn’t laugh at the man with the joke-shop top hat and badly painted Union Jack face championing the dodgy rock band? Who wouldn’t secretly feel a cut above the sparrow of a housewife who’s whitened up her face and made fake bleeding wounds on her arms in honour of Mr Manson? But there’s also an empathy immersed in Breitz’s recording of these wary amateurs.
Each fan is positioned and lit in such a way that they retain their autonomy, and self-respect. There’s clearly an encouragement to perform in their own way and without direction – “a process,” says Breitz, “that allows each portrait to become a moving depiction of the uniqueness of each person within a group united by their passion”.
The shoot locations are crumbling stately homes or magnificent Berliner warehouses: the composition of each piece draws on conventions associated with the rich and powerful. Reminiscent of the Last Supper, or an Old Master portrait of a royal family, Brietz uses her portraits to give space – billboard-size space – to the often-invisible legions of admirers and enthusiasts. This is pageantry inverted. Power and splendour (but for one day only).
CandiceBreitz, ‘Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)’, 2006
Duration: 40 minutes
Downstairs, in a dark padded-cell environment, is her video installation ‘Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)’. It’s the latest of a series of multi-channel portraits of pop stars, where Breitz has replaced the immediately identifiable faces – and sounds – of global icons with an assemblage of portraits of their fans. (The first of the series, ‘Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley)’, had thirty Jamaican devotees covering Marley’s posthumous album, while ‘King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson watched sixteen fans singing and dancing their way through ‘Thriller’. ‘Queen (A Portrait of Madonna) had thirty Italians performing their idol’s ‘Immaculate Collection’.)
This tribute to its namesake features 25 Lennon fans singing their way through his solo record, ‘Plastic Ono Band’ – they can hear the music in their separate recording booths, we can’t. Lined up against the blacked-out wall of White Cube’s basement, the fans come across as eerie high-definition holograms. The quality of the sound is such that you can hear the saliva of each person, as they prepare to sing the next line. Although largely out of sync – one fan may add a late flourish to a line, another will jump the gun and come in early peeping on self-consciously to the end of the chorus – some lines come together perfectly in a harmonised and otherworldly way.
Each of the Lennon 25 are characterised by their devotion to their idol, but Breitz enables us to see the fans’ idiosyncratic physical and emotional language. She’s made an extraordinary document of the confluence of individual and group conduct.
Watching each fan’s tics, their attempts to make eye contact with the camera, their sense of keenness or shyness, is like watching a recording of an old-fashioned ‘mental asylum’. Not that each individual participant seems disturbed necessarily – although some do – it’s just that collectively, they make up a description of everything we do to be noticed; and it’s not easy viewing.
Laura K Jones
All images copyright the artist and courtesy Jay Jopling/ White Cube (London)
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