The video installation Love Story explores the conditions under which empathy is produced. Whose stories are we willing to hear, and how must stories be packaged before we can feel them?
Candice Breitz, Love Story, 2016 (uddrag). Courtesy Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg), Kaufmann Repetto (Milan) og KOW (Berlin)
Storytelling and empathy
What kind of stories are we willing to hear? What kind of stories moves us? Why is it that the same audiences that are driven to tears by fictional blockbusters, remain affectless in the face of actual human suffering? Love Story, a seven-channel installation by Candice Breitz, interrogates the mechanics of identification and the conditions under which empathy is produced. The work is based on the personal narratives of six individuals who have fled their countries in response to a range of oppressive conditions: Sarah Ezzat Mardini, who escaped war-torn Syria; José Maria João, a former child soldier from Angola; Mamy Maloba Langa, a survivor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Shabeena Francis Saveri, a transgender activist from India; Luis Ernesto Nava Molero, a political dissident from Venezuela; and Farah Abdi Mohamed, an idealistic young atheist from Somalia. It evokes the global scale of the so-called ‘refugee crisis,’ evolving out of lengthy interviews conducted with the six participants in the countries where they are seeking or have been granted asylum (two interviews took place in Berlin, two in New York and two in Cape Town).
When true life stories become entertainment
The personal accounts shared by the interviewees are articulated twice by Love Story. In the first space of the installation, re-performed fragments from the six interviews are woven into a fast-paced montage featuring Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore (who are cast in the work as themselves: ‘an actor’ and ‘an actress’). Each was asked to channel excerpts from three of the first-person narratives on a green-screen set, without the support of fictional backdrops, costumes, props, accents or interlocutors. Breitz’s edit intertwines the six renditions, plotting the diverse socio-political circumstances and personal experiences that prompted the interviewees to leave their countries. Her polished restaging of the six stories strips the source interviews of their depth and nuance, of their imperfect grammar and accented English, provocatively mimicking and exposing the logic by means of which ‘true life stories’ migrate into popular entertainment. In a second space that is accessible only via the first, the original interviews unfold across six suspended screens in their full duration and complexity, now intimately voiced by the individuals whose lived experience they archive.
The faceless and the famous
Suspending viewers between the gritty firsthand accounts of people who would typically remain nameless and faceless in the media, and an accessible drama featuring two actors who are the very embodiment of visibility, Love Story raises questions around how and where our attention is focused. The work deploys the hypervisibility of Moore and Baldwin to amplify stories that might otherwise fail to elicit mainstream attention or empathy. At the same time, it reflects on the callousness of a media-saturated culture in which strong identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to a widespread lack of interest in people facing real-world adversity.
A new highlight in ARKEN’s collection
Candice Breitz’s ambitious video installation Love Story was one of the absolute highlights of last year’s Venice Biennale.
Thanks to the generous support of the New Carlsberg Foundation the work is now part of ARKEN’s collection.
About Candice Breitz
Candice Breitz is one of the most powerful voices on the contemporary art scene and her moving image installations have been shown internationally. Throughout her 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.
F. 1972 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lives and works in Berlin.
Breitz holds degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), the University of Chicago and Columbia University (NYC). She has participated in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Studio Program and led the Palais de Tokyo’s ‘Le Pavillon’ residency as a visiting artist during the year 2005-2006. She has been a tenured professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig since 2007.
The artwork is not on display at the moment.
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