Candice Breitz. Labour

September 12 – October 25, 2019



Candice Breitz. Labour, exhibition view Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2019 © Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Jens ZieheCandice Breitz. Labour, exhibition view Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2019 © Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Jens ZieheCandice Breitz. Labour, exhibition view Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2019 © Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Jens ZieheCandice Breitz, The Matrix, 2019 © Candice BreitzCandice Breitz, 2019 © Tobias Zielony
Curator: Kathrin Becker

Candice Breitz (b. 1972 in Johannesburg, lives in Berlin) is an influential chronicler of the contradictions that haunt popular discourse. She is best known for a practice that analyses the dynamics of identity formation via multi-channel video installations which are either shot fresh or composed from existing images, video clips and material drawn from mainstream media.
Labour, a new work commissioned by the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, receives its world premiere in this solo exhibition and will remain in the collection of the n.b.k. Video-Forum.

Labour presents a series of births captured on video, shot by the artist herself in raw documentary style. Each is presented behind an austere grey curtain, which the visitor must hold open in order to be able to view the footage. Framed by a fictional ‘Matricial Decree’ – which outlines an absurdly ambitious feminist agenda – Breitz effectively re-imagines the embodied power that flows through mothers at the moment of giving birth as a resource that can be tapped for other purposes, such as the visceral elimination of authoritarian leaders who are known to have exercised their authority to rewind reproductive justice, or to do harm to the bodily autonomy of women and others.

Labour quickly veers off the documentary path: Rather than re-presenting each birth as it would have unfolded before her camera, Breitz invites us to experience the series of births in reverse. We watch as each newborn is swept out of its mother’s arms, only to be slowly and surreally sucked back into the womb. In addition to the ‘Decree’ that accompanies the body of work – as issued by the Secular Council of the Utopian Matriarchat (a government body that refers to itself, in abbreviation, as S.C.U.M.) – the titles of the individual installations in the series offer a possible explanation for these rituals of reversal. The first piece in the series, titled Labour (PMURT), was shot in the week that Donald Trump was inaugurated as president in January 2017. A second work is titled Labour (NITUP), while the third and fourth installations in the exhibition are titled Labour (ORANOSLOB) and Labour (MIK).

Some will find dark humour in Breitz’s proposal, which is as disturbingly dystopian as it is earnestly utopian. Her targets in this debut presentation of the work – Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro and Kim – have, each in his own way, committed to violent discourse or legislation around questions of reproduction and/or abortion.
Labour seems to suggest that the best approach to dealing with those who seek to curtail our bodily autonomy is to subject them to preposterously late-term abortion – a speculative fiction combined with a feminism that is simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and dead serious.

Across her oeuvre, Breitz addresses the entanglement of personal and political struggles, as these are played out in the public sphere. Recently, her work has reflected on a media-saturated culture in which identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to widespread indifference to the plight of those facing real world adversity.
Love Story (2016), for example, suspends viewers between a series of documentary interviews with displaced individuals from countries such as Syria and Somalia, and a fast-paced montage in which Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore offer slick reperformances of these refugee narratives. TLDR (2017)—a sequel to Love Story—archives the lived experience of a community of sex work activists in Cape Town, staging a musical drama via which to amplify the community’s protests against the stigmatisation and criminalisation of their labour. As she probes the relationship between whiteness, privilege and visibility, Breitz troubles the territory between art and activism, asking whether and how artists living privileged lives can succeed in amplifying calls for social justice and meaningfully representing marginalised communities.


Candice Breitz holds a professorship at the Braunschweig University of Art (since 2007). Solo exhibitions (selection): West Den Haag (2019); Boston Museum of Fine Arts (2018); Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2016); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2013); Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2012); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2010); The Power Plant, Toronto (2009); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2008); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (2007); Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2006); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2005); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2004); De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam (2001). Breitz has participated in numerous group exhibitions as well as in the following biennials: Aichi (2019), Sharjah (2019), Cleveland (2018), Dakar (2014), Singapore (2011), Gothenborg (2009), New Orleans (2008), Venice (2005), Gwangju (2000), Taipei (2000), Istanbul (1999), São Paulo (1998) and Johannesburg (1997). In 2017, she represented South Africa at the 57th Venice Biennale.