Can­dice Breitz
Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon)

27th July – 28th September 2013
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

Look At Me: Who Am I Sup­posed To Be?
Raimar Stange

I. Fans

A YouTube user who calls him­self Paul McCart­ney” has post­ed a home­made video trib­ute to John Lennon on the World Wide Web. He reg­u­lar­ly trans­mits sim­i­lar trib­utes to his idols – includ­ing his name­sake Paul McCart­ney – under the pro­gram­mat­ic YouTube slo­gan, Broad­cast Your­self™”. The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with star­dom begins here with a telling pseu­do­nym, and inten­si­fies with every addi­tion­al por­trait that is post­ed to Paul McCartney’s” YouTube archive. There is promis­ing evi­dence here of a phe­nom­e­non that var­i­ous cul­tur­al crit­ics have described in rela­tion to the recep­tion of pop­u­lar cul­ture: Paul McCart­ney” appears to be active­ly engaged in digest­ing his pop, rather than sim­ply falling pas­sive to its seduc­tions in the mode of a Pavlov­ian dog.

II.True Fans

Which brings me to David John Paul George Ringo Lennon, anoth­er self-pro­claimed fan of The Bea­t­les, and of John Lennon in par­tic­u­lar; a fan belong­ing in this case to a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty of 25 Lennon fans, who are each por­trayed indi­vid­u­al­ly on their own sep­a­rate plas­ma screen in Can­dice Breitz’s 25-chan­nel instal­la­tion Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon) (2006). Bre­itz filmed each of the fans re-singing Lennon’s first offi­cial post-Bea­t­les solo album, John Lennon / Plas­tic Ono Band (1970), in its entirety.1 In the final instal­la­tion, the result­ing 25 re-record­ings are pre­sent­ed side by side, cre­at­ing a syn­chro­nized 25-strong a cap­pel­la ver­sion of the album. The fans were cho­sen from amongst hun­dreds who respond­ed to ads placed by Bre­itz. Each respon­dent was required to fill in a lengthy ques­tion­naire, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Bre­itz to zoom in on those whose lives had been most pro­found­ly affect­ed by Lennon: his true fans. Sev­er­al fans opt­ed out of the project at an ear­ly stage, upon real­iz­ing that it would focus on the Plas­tic Ono Band rather than bet­ter-known favorites like Imag­ine and Jeal­ous Guy. The choice of a rel­a­tive­ly obscure album was for­ma­tive to the work that was to result: in choos­ing Plas­tic Ono Band, Bre­itz specif­i­cal­ly avoid­ed more main­stream hits in favor of an album con­sist­ing of intense­ly emo­tion­al songs that direct­ly relate Lennon’s psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion at the time of mak­ing the album. In 1970, Lennon signed up for Pri­mal Ther­a­py under the super­vi­sion of the psy­chother­a­pist Dr. Arthur Janov, an expe­ri­ence which was to set the raw tone of the Plas­tic Ono Band, and which con­tin­ues to res­onate in the emo­tion­al per­for­mances of the cast of Work­ing Class Hero.

III. Por­trai­ture

Work­ing Class Hero is a por­trait on at least four dif­fer­ent lev­els. Most obvi­ous­ly, Lennon him­self is por­trayed, albeit in absen­tia, by his fans and in their recital of his songs. The instal­la­tion can sec­ond­ly be regard­ed as a por­trait of the Plas­tic Ono Band itself, the album por­trayed through a series of engaged indi­vid­ual inter­pre­ta­tions of its lyrics. Third­ly, Work­ing Class Hero offers a por­trait of North­ern Eng­land, the part of the world in which it was made and from which many of the par­tic­i­pat­ing fans hail. New­cas­tle upon Tyne, the city in which Work­ing Class Hero was shot, is typ­i­cal­ly post-indus­tri­al, hav­ing had to grad­u­al­ly rede­fine itself in response to the decline of heavy indus­try. The invari­able symp­toms of such a tran­si­tion – ram­pant unem­ploy­ment and urban rede­vel­op­ment – find their psy­chic equiv­a­lent in the emo­tion­al cri­sis that is at the heart of the Plas­tic Ono Band. Breitz’s return to the Plas­tic Ono Band is fourth­ly, and above all, a por­trait of the par­tic­i­pat­ing fans: the man­ner in which they take pos­ses­sion of their idol’s music must ulti­mate­ly be read to reflect – con­scious­ly or not – their own lives and desires. Lennon clear­ly under­stood the poten­tial or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that is latent in the extreme­ly inti­mate songs that make up this album: when he intro­duced the song Moth­er at a con­cert in New York in 1972, he com­ment­ed that, a lot of peo­ple thought [this song] was just about my par­ents; but it’s about 99 per­cent of the par­ents, alive or half-dead…” Draw­ing on Mikhail Bakhtin, John Fiske has described this phe­nom­e­non – the emer­gence of new nar­ra­tives as a result of the lay­er­ing of per­son­al expe­ri­ence onto the prod­ucts of the mass media – as a form of Het­eroglos­sia”. 2 The active recep­tion of giv­en con­tent has the poten­tial to gen­er­ate per­son­al expe­ri­ences, long­ings and reflec­tions, which are woven into the con­tent of the orig­i­nal songs, cre­at­ing a new lan­guage. Het­eroglos­sia” elo­quent­ly describes the pos­si­bil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions that are inher­ent not only to the lan­guage of pop, but also to lan­guage in gen­er­al. The lin­guis­tic utter­ances of an indi­vid­ual must nec­es­sar­i­ly make them­selves heard against the back­drop of a pre-exist­ing shared language.3 The fans in Breitz’s instal­la­tion iden­ti­fy with Lennon not only by means of their John Lennon T‑Shirts and round wire-rimmed glass­es, but more impor­tant­ly through their com­plex indi­vid­ual embod­i­ments of the Lennon that each imagines.4 In his reflec­tions on Cindy Sher­man and Madon­na, the philoso­pher Wolf­gang Welsch refers to this process of embod­i­ment as iden­ti­ty in tran­si­tion.” The Eng­lish lan­guage grasps the com­plex­i­ty of iden­ti­ty in tran­si­tion” bet­ter than Ger­man can: where the Ger­man word Imi­ta­tor” evokes super­fi­cial mim­ic­ry, the Eng­lish word Imper­son­ator” sug­gests an alto­geth­er more com­plex process of embodiment.

IV. The Anthro­pol­o­gy of the Fan

Work­ing Class Hero is the fourth in an ongo­ing series of por­traits by Bre­itz, pre­ced­ed by Leg­end (A Por­trait of Bob Mar­ley), King (A Por­trait of Michael Jack­son), and Queen (A Por­trait of Madon­na), all dat­ed 2005.5 The por­traits have thus far fol­lowed the same pro­ce­dur­al log­ic. Each of the select­ed fans is offered the oppor­tu­ni­ty to re-per­form a com­plete album in a pro­fes­sion­al record­ing stu­dio. The fans are then presented

non-hier­ar­chi­cal­ly along­side each oth­er, in grid-like for­ma­tions that priv­i­lege no fan over any oth­er: each per­former is grant­ed the same ver­bal and visu­al pres­ence. Stark dif­fer­ences between the four por­traits are nev­er­the­less appar­ent: it is clear that each of the stars cho­sen for por­tray­al has a very par­tic­u­lar pub­lic per­sona, which in turn attracts a very spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ty of fans. The loca­tion cho­sen for the shoot is itself par­tic­u­lar in each case: the por­trait of Bob Mar­ley was shot in his home coun­try Jamaica, with the help of a cast of local fans who re-sung the com­pi­la­tion album Leg­end (1984). Madonna’s great­est hits com­pi­la­tion, The Immac­u­late Col­lec­tion (1990), was re-per­formed by thir­ty Ital­ian fans in a stu­dio in Milan, while the trans­la­tion of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982) album was left to six­teen Ger­man-speak­ing fans who trav­eled to Berlin to par­tic­i­pate. Leg­end is char­ac­ter­ized by the laid-back flair of the Caribbean and the relaxed rela­tion­ship of Marley’s fans to the beloved music that they inter­pret. The sex­u­al­ly loaded Queen throws up mul­ti­ple ref­er­ences to Madonna’s gen­der-bend­ing ten­den­cies, just as it vivid­ly evokes the ener­gy of the live­ly Ital­ian metrop­o­lis of Milan. Final­ly, King, which was pro­duced in hip Berlin, illu­mi­nates not only the glam­our of the Jack­son phe­nom­e­non, but also the fragili­ty of this com­plex pop fig­ure. As one moves from one por­trait to the next, an anthro­pol­o­gy of fan­dom grad­u­al­ly begins to emerge, a study of the fan that tra­vers­es the spec­trum from fans whose iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is lodged in a shared nation­al iden­ti­ty, to fans whose iden­ti­fi­ca­tion resides in the very rejec­tion of fixed iden­ti­ty, to fans who express their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion through intense mim­ic­ry and self-era­sure. In explor­ing the cathar­tic dimen­sion of the Plas­tic Ono Band, Work­ing Class Hero broad­ens this anthro­pol­o­gy of the fan yet again. Just as Lennon him­self under­went Pri­mal Ther­a­py, the fans who par­tic­i­pate in this por­trait seem to under­go a par­al­lel Plas­tic Ono Band ther­a­py, prob­ing their per­son­al psy­cho­log­i­cal crises as they move through the album.

In clos­ing, I would like to draw a par­al­lel – which may at first seem sur­pris­ing – between Breitz’s por­traits and August Sander’s life-long social por­trait Cit­i­zens of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. Sander’s qua­si-sci­en­tif­ic approach to doc­u­ment­ing the peo­ple in his imme­di­ate sur­round­ings is echoed in Breitz’s endeav­or to map the anthro­pol­o­gy of the fan. Her por­traits set the con­di­tions for an ongo­ing series of typo­log­i­cal stud­ies of the fan”, as each of the par­tic­i­pants steps into the lab­o­ra­to­ry-like stu­dio to offer their ver­sion of the same album under the same con­di­tions. In the place of Sander’s sub­jects, who are defined by their occu­pa­tions, Breitz’s fans are defined by that which they con­sume, as expressed in their idio­syn­crat­ic recep­tion and trans­la­tion of the music that they love. This shift – from Sander’s work­ing cit­i­zens to Breitz’s fans – marks a broad­er his­tor­i­cal shift, from the cult of pro­duc­tion that char­ac­ter­ized moder­ni­ty to the post­mod­ern eclipse of pro­duc­tion by the cul­ture of consumption.

End­notes

1. Pop Idol also presents ordi­nary peo­ple singing pop­u­lar hits, though the par­tic­i­pants do not nec­es­sar­i­ly define them­selves as fans. Unlike Breitz’s fans, par­tic­i­pants in this and sim­i­lar pro­grams are earnest­ly intent on becom­ing stars them­selves. 2. See John Fiske Read­ing the Pop­u­lar (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1989) 3. Bre­itz explores this log­ic in her ten-chan­nel video instal­la­tion Karaōke (2000), in which ten par­tic­i­pants each con­tribute expres­sive Karaōke per­for­mances of the Eng­lish ver­sion of Rober­ta Flack’s song Killing Me Soft­ly, despite the fact that Eng­lish is not a native tongue for any of the singers. 4. See Wolf­gang Welsch Ästhetis­ches Denken (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1990) 5. The first part of the title of each por­trait was cho­sen after Bre­itz had inter­viewed each com­mu­ni­ty of fans, and reflects a term com­mon­ly used by the fans to describe their idol.

Raimar Stange,“Look at Me: Who Am I Sup­posed To Be?” in Chris­tine Kin­tisch (edi­tor), Can­dice Bre­itz: Work­ing Class Hero, (Vien­na: Bawag Foun­da­tion, 2006) exhi­bi­tion catalogue.

Images

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon), 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green

Can­dice Breitz

Work­ing Class Hero (A Por­trait of John Lennon, 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green