Breitz’s Labour, which was commissioned by and is being debuted at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 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. As we witness a series of ‘Elite Reversal Agents’ doing the labour that is required to extract these tyrants from existence, Labour seems to suggest—almost biblically—that the best approach to dealing with those who seek to curtail our bodily autonomy is to subject them to preposterously late-term abortion. This is speculative fiction combined with a feminism that is simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and dead serious.
According to the ‘Matricial Decree,’ additional Reversal Agents are being sought 'to commit to high priority recalls in the months to come.’ If leaks from the artist’s studio can be trusted, the undoing of Modi, Erdoğan, Duterte, Orbán and Assad may be imminent.