Candice Breitz was a visiting lecturer in the Photography and Film Dept. at VCU ealer this fall. A wonderful speaker, Breitz doesn’t fill her audiences with fluff about her work—she goes straight for the jugular. Her artworks essentially do the same thing: extract the human elements of pop culture that are often amiss in its presentation, via music videos, Hollywood films and television. In works such as Babel, Breitz isolates elemental sounds of grammar from pop music videos. For example, a clip of one of Madonna’s hits is condensed into the repeating gutterals “baaa baaa baaa.” In other extractions, Breitz selects whole words to repeat. And in her works Mother and Father, Breitz has extracted pop cultural iconographic mothers and fathers from Hollywood films and isolated them by blacking out their background environments. With most of her work existing in multi-channel formats, viewers are typically overwhelmed by so many isolated figures that are also part of one big conversation.
I am very attracted to Breitz’s work because it asks the essential question of “how are things interpreted when taken out of context?” and the more personal, “who are we when isolated from our environment?” In a modern age, we know ourselves as individuals, but so much of our identity is determined in how we are grouped socially and culturally. Another artist working with similar issues of misplaced context is Ellen Gallagher, who has isolated the hairdressing of African-Americans in white contexts. Gallagher layers cut-out yellow paper atop
advertisements of popular Afro hairstyles, in effect “blondeing” them all. A powerful, subversive, but quiet statement on assimilation.
I have delved into similar territory in my work with romance novels. For a brief period, I was obsessed with the cover figures of hetero romance novels. There is an evocative and disturbing cultural formula at play in this cover art. It is heteronormativity at its mostgrandiose, romantic base. In my Romance Series, I have separated the figures, man and woman from each other, subtracted facial features, and colored them in a ghostly pure white to erase any of the typically blushed, sexually-charged skin tones. I have attempted to take away their sexual substance. By physically separating these figures, I call into question the institutionalized notion of romantic love as something that only exists between straight couples: does such a romance exist in this day and age—did it ever really exist? In this body of work, I also challenge the Puritanically-based notions of monogamy. After separating the figures, I also place them in new social arrangements, often turned away from their pictured lover, sometimes without their original cover partner. I have placed them into different relationships: polyamorous groupings, queer couples, threesomes, etc.