Candice Breitz

Candice Breitz’s first North American survey, “Same Same,” debuted the initial three installments of “Factum,” 2009–, a series of intimate, understated video installations that mark a departure from her trademark engagement with global pop media. Commissioned specifically for this exhibition, the works comprise marathon interviews with seven pairs of identical twins (and one set of triplets) conducted by Breitz in Toronto last spring. Taking its title from Robert Rauschenberg’s pair of nearly identical paintings from 1957, Factum I and Factum II, and exhibited on three diptychs of flat screens, Breitz’s series presents ordinary people reflecting on the extraordinary experience of forging a singular identity within the bond they share with their twin. And seen in the context of the exhibition’s thoughtful selection of installations produced over a decade, the piece helps underscore Breitz’s primary concern: a questioning of how, in relation to others, the subject is formed.

Breitz has, of course, worked with amateur subjects in the past. In her video installations King, Queen, and Legend, all 2005, and in Working Class Hero, 2006, she invited fans of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bob Marley, and John Lennon, respectively, to sing through their idols’ albums. Treating her subjects with care and respect, Breitz gleefully disproves the idea that mass media induces narcoleptic passivity. In Legend, for example, thirty volunteers—including, incongruously, a middle-aged white woman—reprise Bob Marley songs with utter conviction in a Jamaican recording studio, and each performer’s interpretation of Marley’s repertoire is (for better or worse) unique. Through its intentional awkwardness, Legend winningly proves the extent to which individuals absorb global media culture’s “general intellect” within their own terms.

Breitz’s installations subtly reveal the ways in which performance reflects and imposes identity. Legend’s amateur vocalists visibly struggle on camera to situate themselves in relation to Marley’s assured exhortations. Conversely, Him + Her, 2008, a masterful work of Artaudian cruelty, systematically breaks down the supposed authenticity of Hollywood Method acting. Through an artful reedit of two careers’ worth of performances, Jack Nicholson’s and Meryl Streep’s seductive personae roast on the spit of their emotive charm. The installation forcefully advances the project Breitz began with Mother + Father, 2005, which combined samples of Hollywood stars shouting and cooing familial truisms. (Absent from this exhibition, the widely shown work is sometimes misread as a literal treatise on parenting.) Him + Her is installed in two separate rooms, one for each actor. In each, clips featuring either Jack or Meryl screen simultaneously across seven jewel-like screens, floating in velvety darkness. The result is a darkly comedic psychoanalytic tour de force, in which the subjects desperately proffer dozens of selves, only to find them all equally false: Jack is constantly flailing around in an attempt to define his gargantuan ego; Meryl, on the other hand, weeps and self-rationalizes as she waits for His call. These crises expose gender norms, but that revelation is less dramatic than the samples’ cumulative effect: a slow dissolution of each persona. Radically, Breitz suggests that when Hollywood film is taken as a model for the construction of the self, the result is an endlessly spiraling dialectic advancing nowhere at all. As the screens cycle through the glamorous and skillful range of Jack and Meryl’s “personalities,” the work pictures the void at the heart of the Western “identity crisis.”

In the main exhibition hall, Factum’s identical twins thoughtfully mused on the anguish and pleasure of being forever linked to their double. “I know that she is mine and I’m hers. . . . That can’t change,” Laurie Kang says of her sister, Hanna. Meanwhile, behind four closed doors at the back of the room, Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston, Karen Carpenter, and Olivia Newton-John endlessly vocalize the words you and I sampled from a love song by each artist in “Four Duets,” 2000. For Breitz, the subject is always a battlefield.

Chris Kraus