Duration: 28 minutes, 50 seconds
Photograph: Jens Ziehe, Berlin
[Also see 'Her' (1978-2008), available via a separate link on this Vimeo page]
‘Him’ and ‘Her,’ two seven-channel video installations by Candice Breitz, each stage the virtual encounter of an individual with a crowd of his or her other selves. Picking up where Breitz’s earlier installations ‘Mother + Father’ left off, ‘Him + Her’ use existing footage from Hollywood films to compose dense psychological vignettes.
Within the imaginary space of ‘Her’ (1978-2008), 28 Meryl Streeps, extracted out of films made by the actress over a period of 30 years, meet to discuss their needs, fears and desires. In ‘Him’ (1968-2008), 23 Jack Nicholsons, derived from films made over four decades, congregate to exchange dialogue that swings in tone from jocularity to paranoia within the space of seconds.
While displayed in separate rooms, ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ are identical in structure and mirror each other formally. Each installation suspends seven flatscreen monitors on a minimal steel structure. Across the displays, numerous manifestations of the same actor (either Nicholson or Streep) jostle with each other for prominence, collectively suggesting, in their sameness and difference, strong metaphors for the schizophrenic internal dialogue that takes place within the mind of a single individual. In engaging a series of disparate voices from the same mind, Breitz creates a kaleidoscopic, insightful and witty set of interactions between the multiple Jacks and many Meryls, interactions that draw to the surface a series of Hollywood-perpetuated clichés about psychology and gendered identity. The voices speak to each other, against each other and over each other, occasionally achieving moments of strange harmony. The Rorschach-like formal structure of each installation suggests the mind of a single individual, a kind of everyman or everywoman struggling to find a coherent identity through an internal monologue or talking cure, as has been suggested by Jennifer Allen: “By combining the techniques of psychoanalysis and cinema—the talking cure and the talkies, private disclosure and public oration, listening intimately and listening with the masses—Breitz confounds the difference between the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious. ‘Him + Her’ may offer a concentrated portrait of Nicholson and Streep. Yet insofar as these actors and their films have been shared by countless viewers around the world, Breitz’s installation constitutes a collective document, if not an example of social portraiture. In other words, ‘Him + Her’ might just be a bit like you and me.”
The self-worth of the female characters that collectively amount to ‘Her’ is largely inflected through their relationship to the men in their lives, while the male characters in ‘Him’ somewhat more narcissistically struggle with issues of self-definition, sanity and sexual performance. Breitz’s engagement of two iconic actors to play her leads allows a broader reflection on the performativity of subjectivity. At the same time, the works prompt us to view celebrity as an ingredient that has become increasingly central to contemporary identity formation. Breitz has said that Nicholson and Streep are not the true subjects of ‘Him + Her’: her focus lies instead on “the unconscious of mainstream cinema, the values and layers of meaning that slowly start to make themselves legible when the big plots are stripped away.”
Source of Text: Press Release, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa