Ein Interview mit Candice Breitz (2014)
CB: Candice Breitz / IM: Iris Musolf
CB: Becoming It made me think of a chapter titled ‘Tolerances of the Human Face’ in J.G. Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, a text that on the one hand reads like an instruction manual on how to disrupt the mass media landscape, but which also brutally describes the extent to which consumer imagery has invaded and splintered contemporary consciousness, producing a brand of psychosis that is not easily sidestepped. Ballard embraces pornography as “a powerful catalyst for social change,” claiming in The Atrocity Exhibition that “its periods of greatest availability have frequently coincided with times of greatest economic and scientific advance.” While your work shares with Ballard’s writing an obsessive interest in prostheses, an almost clinical use of pornographic imagery and an investment in exploring the manner in which the human psyche has been almost physically penetrated by mass media imagery, you seem decidedly more ambivalent about the radical potential embedded in pornography. Can you speak about the recurring appearance of pornographic devices and references in your work?
IM: This work is more concerned with the commercialisation of beauty and sexuality. I am fascinated by the functionalisation of the cult of the body. We are surrounded by the adoration of the unreal body and the simulation of pleasure. I ask myself why. To conceal something? To ban whatever is intoxicating, disinhibited, ecstatic, abhorrent of the body? In my opinion, pornography is certainly a part of this. “Sex sells. And so, every industry has become a branch of the sex industry,” is how Laurie Penny formulated it. My work expresses a perceived cultural trauma, whose symptom is the body. The body is a commercial resource and an industrial production material. I see pornography as the exaggerated pleasure of frictionless processes, in which the intimate bodily experience is placed at the service of a production process for profit maximisation. During this process the differences between these bodies disappear and the bodies are turned into stylised image surfaces. By means of technical possibilities the human body is thus utilised as a clean foil for commercial purposes.
CB: Becoming It is a portrait of sorts, a self-portrait made under extreme physical duress. You are literally inverted and virtually suffocated as you wrestle with the plastic bag, not to mention denied any form of dignifying subjectivity. The ‘it’ in the title may refer to you or to the bag—both seem equally devoid of being. I’d be interested in hearing more about the process of ‘becoming’ that you allude to in the title of the work, given that little visible growth or progress occurs as we watch you (an objectified subject) losing your identity to the bag (a subjectified object).
IM: At the end of the video I try to become one with the face of the model projected on the bag. The attempt to chew and to eat the face entails, for me, the process of incorporative becoming. At the same time, the work addresses the possibility of becoming this other I. Here it is the image of a model, a person charged with ideal conceptions of beauty and thus with idealised social norms as well. The work is about how one can define oneself through the body and simultaneously against it. For me this is a personal and social issue. I want to “become body, where none is,” as Hans Belting said. I question this becoming, “which increasingly substitutes the being of the body in our world by the appearance of the image” (Belting). The bag as the carrier medium for the photographed face of the model is also a prosthesis, which in turn is continued in the technical surface of the flat screen, where everything coincides for the seeing eye and becomes one.
CB: The amputated torsos of the Alien Love Dolls evoke a long history of fragmented bodies, all the way back to the Venus de Milo or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but they also open onto comparison with Marc Quinn’s more recent and somewhat controversial marble sculptures of amputees, in particular his public portraits of Alison Lapper. Where do you locate your own work in this trajectory of bodies that are in some way incomplete or subject to lack, in particular as a woman who is invested in feminist discourse?
IM: In fact, the allusion to Greek sculpture plays a crucial role here. The sculptor Praxiteles created a statue of the goddess Aphrodite in the fourth century BCE, known as the Aphrodite of Knidos, that was considered extremely beautiful. This statue was revolutionary and is supposed to be the first portrayal of the naked, self-confidant female body, conceived to be seen from every angle. Today we encounter nakedness everywhere. This sculpture has always represented a certain ideal of beauty. The doll symbolises a contemporary, exaggerated, sick striving for beauty in its permanent availability. It a fragment from a time when sexualised human images surround us. The form of my sculpture is a fragment, in order to create analogies to Greek sculptures, who are missing limbs for historical reasons.
The difference to the works by Marc Quinn is that here we are concerned with witty, absurd dolls, that is, a translation, and not the depiction of disabled people.
CB: Can you elaborate on the way that you present works like the Alien Love Dolls and Aussteuer / Bottom Drawer? Your use of vitrines and sculptural pedestals that are familiar to us from classical museum display seem to ascribe an elevated value to found objects that started their lives as relatively cheap sex toys.
IM: Cheap manufacturing of goods out of cheap material by cheap labour in emerging and developing countries determines the manner in which we live, and that we can purchase things such as toys, clothes, or furniture at low prices, at least here in Germany. In museums the culture of previous lives is classified, studied, and displayed to construct an excerpt of how it could have been. Value systems are also linked to this. “Cheap” determines our consumer behaviour enormously, which is also a reflection of culture. This is what I want to take up, by attempting to focus the image of value judgements, which I think I recognise around me, more sharply than is usually done. To this end I use the familiar modes of museum presentation, to make possible a seamless transition to the history of nakedness in representations of the body, to indicate in the present a future cultural retrospection.
CB: Aussteuer / Bottom Drawer is a particularly fragile piece – I believe this is the only sculpture in this new body of work that is cast in porcelain. Beyond its fragility, porcelain is a material with a variety of cultural associations, which I’m assuming have been instrumental in your choice of the material?
IM: It only appears to be porcelain. Nevertheless, the work is about the associations that are linked to porcelain. Porcelain is also known as white gold, since it is very expensive to produce. The original product “doll” embodies for me non-committality and worthless rubbish, while porcelain in contrast requires an obligatory attentiveness to not destroy the fragile, valuable object. I transpose this observation to the fragility of the beauty of life. We find ourselves again and again in the heap of shards of our existence, which we have to sort anew. This can also be a happiness. That is why at weddings porcelain is traditionally broken. But a porcelain service is often given as a gift to the newlyweds as well.
CB: Can the Myoplastic Table be read as an attempt to alleviate the discomfort or pain that some might experience during sex? Or to suggest that such discomfort and pain is an inescapable part of the act? On the one hand, you go to great lengths to design an object that might support pleasure, on the other hand the table speaks an undeniably medical language, in my mind unavoidably alluding to the slabs on which medical procedures—and even autopsies—might be performed.
IM: Yes, the table combines the pain, the hardness, and the softness of the ascetic, the pleasure, and the ecstasy together. Existential fears and the joys of being human are contained in it. The table is a kind of Freudian operating table. The results of real cosmetic surgery aim to visually conceal the physical and psychological wounds of a person, in order to be superficially adjusted and not to appear deficient. Fears, pain, and openly enjoying pleasure are, in my opinion, still tabooed for the most part and therefore banned from our lives or concealed by the clean, almost clinical, sterility of a commercial visual language. What lies below the sanitary plastic world of the smooth surfaces, of the thin skin? An insurmountable distance remains between people, regardless of how close they are. The body is the prerequisite for this. The end is always death, whose witness the body is.
CB: I know that the exhibition takes its title from an element of the Myoplastic Table. How does ‘Die Blaue Klinge’ come to encapsulate what this new body of work is about for you?
IM: ‘Die Blaue Klinge’ [The Blue Blade] is the name of a razor blade for men. The razor blade is part of a normative, positively connoted beauty treatment like shaving. It is a very old ritual of personal hygiene for men and women. At the same time I associate razor blades with an increased danger of injury. With a razor blade you can go beneath the skin, cut into the flesh. The object razor thus contains the potential of penetrating more deeply into something, of cutting through the surface to darker layers hidden underneath. The cut as a painful procedure can bring something new, something different to light, which perhaps contradicts a behaviour that is controlled by norms. This is what I attempt with my new works. The symbol of the razor unites this striving.
CB: Annie Sprinkle or Monica Bonvicini?