'The power of whiteness rests in its ability to deny its existence': Candice Breitz on placenta, Marcel Broodthaers and Apartheid

The South African artist tells us about her favourite books, music and artists on the A brush with… podcast

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Portrait of Candace Breitz. Photo: Jim Rakete

Portrait of Candace Breitz. Photo: Jim Rakete

Installation view of Candice Breitz, Digest at Goodman Gallery, London, 2021. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Candice Breitz on... the inspiration behind her installation Digest, consisting of 1,001 videotapes, now on show at Goodman Gallery in London

"Videotape as a medium is very much of the physical world. But [in the 2000s], as the moving image slowly migrated from its physical form into a more virtual one, we ourselves began withdrawing from the public sphere and spending less time among other bodies within a collective experience. This has occurred with the moving image through a slow shift away from going to the cinema to collectively take in film—to cough and sneeze and laugh and gasp together as we absorb a story—to video. Videotape marks the moment when we're taking these movies home and watching them in smaller collective spaces, often within the space of the family. And then gradually over time, we're experiencing moving images on smaller, personal digital devices: a phone, tablet, or laptop. And I think that there's a loss that occurs within that migration and within that shift. I would describe that loss as, to some extent, being a loss of the body in the world or a withdrawal into internal spaces, mental spaces, virtual spaces. One way that you could describe Digest is as a kind of memorial to, or monument for, the loss of that analogue collective experience."

On Kawara's MAY 20, 1981. Courtesy of Solomon. R. Guggenheim Museum

... and the historical artists the exhibition refers to

"The work is not dissimilar to Piero Manzoni's Artists's Shit (1961), in the sense that the contents are inaccessible. In the case of Manzoni's work, we know what's inside, or rather what he claims is inside the tin. But it's a gesture of withholding, a narrative of refusal. Similarly, as I was making the piece I thought a lot about Marcel Broodtahers 1964 sculpture Pense-Bête, for which he buries his own poetry in a lump of concrete and makes it impossible to access the innards of the books. [...] And I was also haunted during the making of the work by On Kawara, whose practice is very much defined by this incredibly arduous repetition of the same, that is always shifting and producing small differences, but which, roughly speaking, is confined within a certain set of parameters."

... her work Profile (2017), which was made after she was invited to show in South Africa’s pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale

"The power of whiteness rests in its ability to deny its existence […]. Accepting the invitation Venice pavilion felt very fraught for a variety of reasons [...] There's something very strange and problematic about imagining that I, a white South African, could represent this country. [...] So I thought it'd be interesting to invite a range of other South Africans of various lived experiences to help me tackle this conundrum. In Profile, I ask 10 South African artists to step into my shoes, to play me, and to answer a set of questions which nobody likes to answer: 'What is your race, language, religion?' [...] What you end up with is a portrait of a South African told through a cross section of 10 artists who are very idiosyncratic. And collectively, I think when you hear these 10 voices trying and failing to describe what a South African artist is, it becomes very clear that that we've got a long way to go when it comes to thinking about what it means to be a nation."

Candice Breitz, The Matrix (2019). Courtesy of n.b.k.

... what hangs on her studio wall

“There is a nice, juicy photograph of a fresh placenta. And that landed there because a project I've been working on for the last few years called Labour (2019), which has involved filming women giving birth. It's a long, slow-burning project. At this point, I've had the honour of being present at seven births, so that's where the placenta comes from."

A brush with… series 7 runs from 17 November-15 December 2021, with episodes released on Wednesdays. You can download and subscribe to the podcast here. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.

Candice Breitz: Digest, Goodman Gallery, London from 25 November until 20 January 2022 

Breitz has numerous works on view in museums around the world: TLDR is in Witch Hunt at the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (until 9 January 2022). Her work Mother is on view in the show also called Mother! at the Kunsthalle Mannheim in Germany (until 6 February 2022). Her work I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) is at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (until 13 February 2022) and Becoming Julia is showing in Gazes Out of Time at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (until 24 April 2022). Alien (Ten Songs from Beyond) is at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (until May 2022). And coming up she has solo shows at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany (from 10 March 2022) and the Fondazione Modena Arti Visive, Modena, Italy (June 2022). You can watch many of Candice’s video works on her Vimeo channel.