Pop Past: Bursting the soapie bubbles

01 September 2015 - 02:03 By Mary Corrigall

Artists never conceal their obsessions; they usually thoroughly immerse themselves in them, exploiting them shamelessly in the name of art. Candice Breitz's obsession with soapies and popular culture is a case in point. She is a die-hard consumer but she likes to fiddle with her obsession, disrupt it.She wasn't content with watching Generations, she wanted to star in it. As an artistic gesture, of course, captured in images and a film for a solo exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery in 2012.It was the first time Breitz had staged an exhibition here since leaving South Africa in the late 1990s, before settling in Berlin. She has since presented a solo show, The Woods, at the Goodman Gallery in 2013.As the featured artist at the coming FNB Joburg Art Fair, her work is one of the most anticipated attractions, given her international stature. Breitz has shown her video-based art all over the world and galleries such as the Guggenheim and MOMA in New York have her work in their collections. Her art appeals to almost everyone, given the popular subject matter.Breitz has created performance works with Madonna fans, Abba lookalikes and Nigerian ''child" actors, and done studies of twins. She is fixated with the impact of our celebrity-driven culture - in her most famous work, Mother + Father, she postulates that celebrities have become our virtual parents, teaching us how to behave in the world.She cannibalises and deconstructs pop culture, in particular film and television products, exposing how norms are constructed through these mediums.Her work made for South African audiences tends to plug into our racial politics - what else?Extraordinarily, the producers of Generations permitted her to insert herself into scenes during the filming. Could she really exist as an invisible extra?The result, a photographic series and video work titled Extra, reveals that, though her presence might have been understated, she stands out like a sore thumb; because she is white and the actors are black, but also due to the odd premise.It was an uncomfortable work; was it a gross product of entitlement, or about white people coming to terms with being marginalised? At the time she argued: "The classic position that whiteness has taken is to claim invisibility; when you speak about race you talk about blackness and not the constructedness of whiteness."Whatever the merits of that work, it took guts for Breitz to go there. In the late 1990s she was subjected to intense criticism when her 1996 Rainbow series - images of white porn stars spliced with ethnographic depictions of black women - caused an almighty stir and opened up a debate that led to a book, Grey Areas, and that has probably never been fully resolved.In one of her video works she regurgitates popular culture. Using edited footage of Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, she presents a study of the characters they play over time and how these identities perpetuate gender norms.She will also show an installation of works dubbed Portrait of an Artist, created in the Ukraine at the behest of the Pinchuk Centre. Breitz invited artists excluded from this elite art institution to generate her portrait. It was a means of introducing these ''rejected" artists into a space where they would never have access due to their work not being deemed ''collectable" or ''art".This will have resonance in an art fair setting where similar exclusions occur.The FNB Joburg Art Fair takes place from September 11 to 13 at the Sandton Convention Centre

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