In her installation Becoming (2003), Candice Breitz slips awkwardly into the roles of seven popular Hollywood actresses (Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Meg Ryan, Neve Campbell, Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore). Having cut-and-pasted short sequences of these actresses out of various films (in the process isolating the actresses by eliminating the actors who appeared opposite them), Breitz re-enacts their performances as precisely as possible. Interestingly, Breitz’s re-performances are not simply parodies of the sequences that she copycats. Rather, Breitz mimics the actresses as diligently as possible, producing disturbingly earnest renditions of their performances. As Breitz puts herself through each routine, a grammar that is usually masked slowly makes itself visible… the somewhat narrow range of familiar gestures and expressions available to the actresses (and thus to Breitz herself), points to the limits of media subjectivity, to the wooden vocabulary of being that is sold to us by Hollywood.
Becoming is presented as a series of 7 double-channel works. In each case, two televisions are set back-to-back inside a wooden structure: the first monitor displays the ‘original’ footage (for example, Julia Roberts excerpted from Pretty Woman, or Cameron Diaz extracted from The Sweetest Thing), while the second monitor plays back Breitz’s re-performance. The original and copy are bound together like Siamese twins, not only by their back-to-back presentation, and by their identical duration, but also because they share the same voice: the original Hollywood soundtrack underlies both the source clip and the Breitz version, making the two inseparable. The voice of each Hollywood actress is thus expressed not only through the actress herself, but also through Breitz. This alien presence occupies and directs Breitz’s body, such that each of the resulting new films might be described as a kind of body-karaoke. The back-to-back positioning of each double-sided installation frustrates the simultaneous viewing of the two pieces of footage, forcing the viewer to circle around the work in order to compare the front and rear performances. The sober effect is heightened by the contrast between the lush colour footage of the Hollywood clips, and the simple black-and-white footage of Breitz. Throughout the series, Breitz wears the same simple attire (black pants, white blouse). Her copycat films are set in a nondescript bright space, a stark white cube of sorts.
Becoming raises many complex questions facing contemporary subjectivity, focusing in particular on the way in which identity increasingly takes its cues from media-produced prototypes. Inversely, the work might be read to suggest, that screen icons achieve stardom precisely because - beyond the clichés that they perpetuate – ultimately, we imagine these stars as ‘real’ people. Writing in the 1920s, Siegfried Kracauer had already detected this loop: “Film and life reflect each other because the little working ladies model themselves on the stars they see on the screen. It may however be the case that the most hypocritical of these stars are in fact based on real life.” Incidentally, the title of Breitz’s installation alludes to an MTV program, in which teenagers are given the chance to re-perform a music video starring their favourite pop star.