As a kid growing up in rural Southern Missouri, I took in a steady diet of Family Ties, The Facts of Life and Different Strokes. I remember, gathering in the cool of our downstairs den, the day we got a VCR and, later, cable TV.
While visiting PEM this spring, artist Candice Breitz shared the impact that light American sitcoms made on her while growing up in South Africa, where The Cosby Show was initially banned during Apartheid.
“My joke is that South Africa is perpetually stuck in the 80s. I always feel like I’m going back in time, which is good and bad. But when I started studying in the states, it occurred to me that almost everything about my growing up experience was not in common with my peers, whether they were Venezuelan, or Mexican, or German, or American. The only thing we really had in common was that we had all grown up on a steady diet of American entertainment. And we had all had a crush on George Michael when we were 12 or sang along to a particular Madonna album, or we had all tried to stay up late enough to watch Dallas over our parent’s shoulders. And that seemed to me interesting, ominous, that this is what we would have in common, that this was our cultural common experience, and it seemed to me like an opportunity that I was interested in hijacking.
I was interested in reading that shared experience, that shared archive as a lingua franca, as a shared language. While my experience growing up, politically, socially, linguistically, educationally was completely different from the people around me, what we had in common was that we had all sucked this up, absorbed this. I was interested in mining that shared archive and interpreting it, translating it, thinking about what it means that we have all absorbed that. What values are communicated by that culture? What are the norms and conventions carried in that culture, and are they carried successfully? Do people challenge them; do they absorb them passively and perpetuate them?”
Breitz has long been interested in media and personal identity. She studies the media as a shaping force, as much as family, gender, religion, community and the various ingredients that make up the self. Bretiz has been examining this topic while interviewing for a video installation co-commisioned by PEM. It opens October 11.
To make The Woods, Breitz traveled to the epicenters of film production — in Hollywood, Bollywood (India) and Nollywood (Nigeria) — to capture the movie industry’s effect on child actors. The final result is three cleverly spliced, mesmerizing video loops.
In L.A, Breitz captures ambitious kids, many who have voice coaches, take dance lessons and whose families relocated to get their child closer to Hollywood.
In Mumbai, Breitz met with child actors that had achieved some success and filmed them conveying the words of a Bollywood star on how to survive in the business.
In Nigeria, she interviewed two adult actors famous for playing children in the giant movie industry of Nollywood, which produces almost twice as many movies as Hollywood each year.
We can’t wait to share this exhibition with you in person when it opens this fall. In the meanwhile, enjoy an interview with Bretiz from the 2011 Singapore Biennale in which Breitz discusses her work Factum, a study of identity through identical twins.