Candice Breitz calls popular culture a “somewhat perverse lingua franca,” or, alternately, “the lowest possible common denominator.” She sees images from advertising, television, films, pop music and video as representing both an oppressive force, capable of leveling out the diversity of local cultures, and fertile terrain, a shared patrimony that is consumed on a global level. In redefining the artistic gesture as a process of selection and translation, the artist takes possession of popular culture, transforming herself from a passive spectator into an active, critical voice.
Breitz moved from her early photomontages to video installations in which she uses fragments of video clips, television series, and Hollywood movies to create performances for videos or short films, appropriating the faces and voices of rock stars and actors. Breitz recomposes “stolen” frames, sometimes reworking them through articulate digital interventions, in an attempt to subvert their original meaning and reveal what according to the artist are the ideological, commercial, and economic mechanisms that govern the entertainment industry. Occasionally, she invites the collaboration of nonprofessional actors, who describe themselves through the words, actions, or songs of their idols.
Spoken language, in the form of dangerously invasive force, is a fundamental component of her works. In Yes/No (Babel Series, Diptych), 1999, two video monitors mounted on bases display fragments from music videos, featuring the singers Grace Jones and Prince, respectively. Using selected frames from the videos, Breitz reduces the performances to mere monosyllabic repetition, the equivalent of the childlike language that simplification by the mass media presents to public consumption.
Soliloquy Trilogy, 2000, consists of the projection of shortened versions of three Hollywood movie Dirty Harry, The Witches of Eastwick, and Basic Instinct. From each of the original films, Breitz isolates only the moments when the leading actor or actress speaks, according to a conceptual editing process. Condensing the original length of each film to a sequence of just a few minutes, Breitz reveals the poverty of the original plot, eliminating any trace of credible narrative. However the presence of each of the protagonists, elevated to a dominant icon, ends up being obsessive and extremely physical. As in other works by Breitz, the result intentionally exposes the artist’s ambivalent attitude toward contemporary popular culture.