Candice Breitz: Digest

Candice Breitz: Digest - Omenka Online

Running presently at Goodman Gallery East Hampton is Digest, an exhibition of Candice Breitz’s most recent body of work.

When it is shown in full-scale, Digest is a multi-channel video installation that consists of 1,001 videotapes, which Breitz has permanently buried in polypropylene video sleeves. Each of the sleeves is emblazoned with a single verb excerpted from the title of a film that was in circulation during the era of home video, then painstakingly coated in black acrylic abstraction. The verb, ‘to die’, for instance, is sourced from the VHS cover for Die Hard (1988), while ‘to do’ is cited from the VHS cover for Do The Right Thing (1989). In each case, the Digest verb faithfully appropriates and reproduces the font that was used on the original VHS cover. The tapes are arranged on shallow wooden racks, evoking the display aesthetics of video rental stores. The content carried on the concealed videocassettes will remain forever unrevealed, leaving viewers to speculate regarding what footage is being preserved within this extensive archive.

Video set in motion a revolution in the late 1970s, anticipating a future in which moving images would be accessible, affordable and infinitely reproducible – while at the same time predicting the inevitable erosion of the collective viewing experience that cinema had offered (in favour of home entertainment). For all the radical shifts predicted by video, the videotape itself remained unapologetically and stubbornly trapped in physical objecthood. Less than a decade into the twenty-first century, the format was dead. The moving image was destined for a virtual future, in keeping with the profound disembodiment that the digital era would bring to the public sphere at large. As a final resting place for miles and miles of videotape, Digest commemorates the embodied subjectivity of the analogue era, immortalising a mode of image consumption that has since slipped into obsolescence.

I know you think I’m crazy, but I’m not, I’m not! (1938-2019)

The selected verbs evoke political struggle, the ongoing dialogue between structures of authority and those seeking justice within such structures. The title quotes a line spoken by the actress Margaret Lockwood, playing the role of Iris Henderson in Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Lady Vanishes (1938). The verb ‘to vanish,’ which is featured in this work, is drawn from the VHS cover for the Hitchcock film.

Digest owes the seriality of its structure partially to the legend of Scheherazade, who – according to The Arabian Nights (often referred to as One Thousand and One Nights) – was the 1,001st wife of the powerful sultan, Shahrayar. After his first wife had betrayed him, the sultan decided, in a fit of misogynist loathing, that he would marry a fresh virgin on a daily basis. With each new dawn, he would systematically decapitate the wife from the day before, denying her the possibility of committing adultery. Scheherazade avoids the fate of her predecessors by putting her exceptional storytelling skills to work. On her first night with Shahrayar, she enthrals the sultan with a tantalising tale that is too long to be completed by dawn. Desperate to hear the end of the story, Shahrayar allows his wife to live for another night. On the thousand nights that follow, Scheherazade spins cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Her ability to generate narrative suspense literally becomes her means of survival. Eventually, after 1,001 nights, Shahrayar decides to spare Scheherazade’s life and to crown her his queen.

I don’t know where I am, or who I am, or what I’m doing! (1941-2020)

The selected verbs evoke the most primal of bodily experiences, consistent with Digest’s mourning of embodied experience at a time when rampant digitalization and pandemic conditions have accelerated our withdrawal from the public sphere into virtual life. The title quotes a line spoken by Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder’s film, The Seven Year Itch (1955). The verb ‘to itch,’ which is featured in this work, is drawn from the VHS cover for the Wilder film.

Digest was completed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unprecedented restrictions of movement that have been imposed across the globe in response to the pandemic, have served as a violent reminder of the fragility of the social body. The suspended state of the little plastic bodies that are buried in Digest – their frustrated potential – can be read as analogous to our own retraction from physical space under pandemic conditions. Like Scheherazade herself, the videocassettes buried in the work hold the potential to carry and channel narrative, but ultimately these tapes (and their contents) are condemned to isolation and darkness.

For East Hampton, Digest is presented in the form of several selected ‘shelves’ and ‘grids,’ each of which is unique. Though the verbs included in these smaller works echo first-generation verbs that exist in the larger Digest Archive, the combination of verbs in any given grid or shelf will never be repeated.

The last thing I would want would be a taped confession (1934-2020)

The selected verbs evoke modes of duplication, doubling, copying and reproduction, hinting both at the loss of ‘originality’ as a measure of value in a copy-and-paste culture, and at various biological, cultural and technical modes of production and reproduction. ‘Double’ is the only verb that occurs twice in the Digest Archive. The title of the work quotes a line spoken by actress Uma Thurman, playing ‘Amy Randall’ in Richard Linklater’s film, Tape (2001). The verb ‘to tape,’ which is featured in this work, is drawn from the VHS cover for the Linklater film.

First debuted on the Sharjah Biennial 14 (in early 2019), Digest was completed in late 2020 and is currently being shown in full scale for the first time at the Akademie Der Künste in Berlin (until 18 September 2021). It will be shown later in the year at Goodman Gallery London.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1953-2020)

The selected verbs evoke the slow progress through history that is achieved via political resistance and rebellion. The work culminates in the verb ‘to matter,’ in tribute to the extraordinary power of the Black Lives Matter movement. The title of the work pays tribute to Gil Scott-Heron’s song/poem, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1970-1971), which in turn derives from a slogan that was popular among Black Power movements during the ’60s.

Black Oscars (1962-2020)

The selected verbs pay tribute to five actors of colour who have won Academy Awards over the course of their acting careers, in an entertainment industry that is notorious for its entrenched disparities. At the point that the #OscarsSoWhite campaign was initiated in 2015, 86% of top films featured white actors (and 92% of top film directors were men), a pattern dating back decades. Cumulatively, the five verbs in Black Oscars hint at the possibility of overcoming disparity. The work makes reference to Chain Reaction (featuring Morgan Freeman), Panic Room (featuring Forest Whitaker), Men of Honor (featuring Cuba Gooding Jr.), Pressure Point (featuring Sidney Poitier) and Breakin’ All the Rules (featuring Jamie Foxx).

Candice Breitz: Digest runs at Goodman Gallery East Hampton until 15 August 2021.

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