16 | 09 | - 01 | 12 | 2023 White Box, ZF Campus | ZU
What fuels racism? What does it mean to inhabit a white skin? What privileges come with whiteness? And how do public figures like television stars, comedians, and bloggers contribute to mobilizing racist resentment?
Candice Breitz, an artist who grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era, is a significant voice in the ongoing discourse surrounding identity politics, racism, and whiteness. Her photographic and video works primarily scrutinize popular culture and mainstream media and their role in the construction and formation of collective and individual identities. Since the 1990s, she has thematized her own whiteness and other racialised categories in her artwork. Her works, which have been displayed in major museums and biennials worldwide for many years, captivate through their precision in observation and a distinct aesthetic. Through a serial, reductionist and deliberately arranged visual language, her video works and photographs consistently emphasize the media construction of what is presented.
In her video installation "Whiteface" (dated 2022) Breitz delves into racist clichés, speech patterns and styles of argumentation as these circulate daily in mass media, thereby creating toxic spaces of resonance and offerings of identification.
In the video, the artist herself appears, dressed in a white shirt, with and without various platinum blonde wigs. What is immediately unsettling about her multiple appearances are the slightly eerie, extreme, white contact lenses, evident even at first glance. The artist stands before a snow-white backdrop, moving her lips and gesturing like a reversed voice-dubbing artist, syncing with the voices and speech fragments of vastly different, sometimes well-known individuals. The range of this montaged re-enactment of speech fragments spans from the more or less radical, absurd, cynical disconcerting comments by white individuals about their own whiteness. These encompass the reproduction of everyday racism to white supremacist notions, to far-right propaganda.
The spectrum of voices featured here runs the gamut from the extreme right-wing white supremacy activist Richard Spencer, to the former Fox News television presenter Tucker Carlson, whose increasingly paranoid worldview caused controversy, to the comedian Bill Maher, known for hosting the late-night talk show Politically Incorrect. It also includes the controversial activist and former African-American Studies lecturer Rachel Dolezal, who misrepresented herself as a black person despite being white and fuelled a heated discussion about the im/possibility of being “transracial”, and sociologist and anti-racism consultant Robin DiAngelo, known for coining the concept of "white fragility" and addressing systemic racism in her book "What Does It Mean to Be White?". Drawn from an archive that documents “white people talking about race,” the work includes the voices of anonymous YouTube bloggers alongside those of these more recognisable figures.”
The simultaneously minimalist and strongly theatrical costume, along with the repetition of specific passages, claps, and finger-snapping, and the repeating appearance of a chorus-like trio (in which the artist embodies multiple roles side by side), structure the 35-minute installation. Through recurring short chants like "White people talking about race, White people talking about race, White people talking about race," the recurring question "Who are you?", a repetitive "tick tock, tick tock – boom!", and a frequently used sound sequence seemingly extracted from a game show soundboard, an impressive choreography emerges. Even though the strung-together quotes are seemingly divided into individual chapters via rhythmic repetition, every argument gets lost in the intertwined statements. Topics such as white privilege, the definition of racism, “reverse racism,” white fragility, or the alleged impending extinction of the "white race" are hinted at but ultimately dissipate.
Breitz turns herself into an echo here, endlessly regurgitating or citing fragmented statements from the impenetrable thicket of ongoing racist debates, ranging from excerpts of academic discourse and angry speeches, to comedy and extreme right-wing contempt. The re-enactment of these voices does not so much refer to individual speaker positions, but rather presents a contradictory spectrum of argumentative figures, emotions, ways of thinking and speaking that underlie white supremacy.
In the "White Box" – the exhibition space of the artsprogram of Zeppelin University – this emotionally charged and satirical video installation addressing whiteness is encountered as an immersive space
Through a study group, a panel discussion featuring sociologist Eva Illouz and political scientist Simon Koschut, and with a concluding experimental symposium where participants such as Candice Breitz and Eva von Redecker will join as speakers, this work will be situated within a broader context that aims to point beyond one that is disproportionately influenced by US discourse.
Candice Breitz (born in Johannesburg, 1972) is a Berlin-based artist. Her moving image installations have been shown internationally. Throughout Breitz’s career, she has explored the dynamics by means of which an individual becomes him or herself in relation to a larger community, be that the immediate community that one encounters in family, or the real and imagined communities that are shaped not only by questions of national belonging, race, gender and religion, but also by the increasingly undeniable influence of mainstream media such as television, cinema and other popular culture.
Most recently, Breitz’s work has focused on the conditions under which empathy is produced, reflecting on a media-saturated global culture in which strong identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to widespread indifference to the plight of those facing real world adversity. In 2022, she completed The White Noise Trilogy, a trio of multichannel video installations that includes Love Story (2016), TLDR (2017) and Whiteface (2022).
Solo exhibitions of Breitz’s work have been held at the Tate Liverpool, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), Museum Folkwang (Essen), Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Palais de Tokyo (Paris), The Power Plant (Toronto), Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Modern Art Oxford, De Appel Foundation (Amsterdam), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead), MUDAM / Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Pinchuk Art Centre (Kyiv), Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Bawag Foundation (Vienna), Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, MUSAC / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (Spain), FMAV / Fondazione Modena Arti Visive (Modena), Wexner Center for the Arts (Ohio), O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria (Linz), ACMI / The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne), Collection Lambert en Avignon, Sonnabend Gallery (New York), FACT / Foundation for Art & Creative Technology (Liverpool), Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (Berlin), among other institutions.
Rahel Gloria Spöhrer | Curatorial direction of the artsprogram of Zeppelin University | email@example.com
Prof. Dr. Karen van den Berg | Academic director of the artsprogram of Zeppelin University | firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Beck, Alexander Fahl, Ramiz Hetemi, Laetitia Lüke, Alada Njei | Technical planning and installation
Marei Brodeck, Niklas Ehret, Laetitia Lüke, Lilli Kim Schreiber | Curatorial assistant
Thanks to | Moritz Colsman, Jessica Fischer, Konrad Müller, Belle Santos, Sophie Mai-Schram
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‘Whiteface‘ Zeppelin University
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