Artist Can­dice Bre­itz Has Found a Cre­ative Way to Protest a Museum’s Link to Refugee Prison Camps

Sarah Cascone
Artnet News, 12 December 2017
When South African artist Can­dice Breitz‘s work Love Sto­ry goes on view at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria this week, it will have a new name: Wil­son Must Go. Bre­itz is rechris­ten­ing the sev­en-chan­nel video piece — which fea­tures actors Alec Bald­win and Julianne Moore recount­ing the tales of refugees in first per­son — in protest of the NGV’s cur­rent use of the firm Wil­son Secu­ri­ty, a com­pa­ny that over­saw the impris­on­ment of thou­sands of immi­grants and refugees to Aus­tralia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the island nation of Nau­ru. The piece — which chan­nels the pow­er of celebri­ty to bring atten­tion to the plight of refugees — has now become a work of protest against the mis­treat­ment of immi­grants at Australia’s off­shore deten­tion cen­ters. The video instal­la­tion is set to go on view Decem­ber 15 in the NGV Triennial(through April 15), a sprawl­ing exhi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing work by 100 artists and design­ers includ­ing Camille Hen­rot, Yay­oi Kusama, and Team­lab. Breitz’s work, Love Sto­ry, was com­mis­sioned by the NGV and pre­vi­ous­ly on view in the South African pavil­ion at the 2017 Venice Bien­nale. It will next appear at South Africa’s Good­man Gallery (Feb­ru­ary 1 – March 10, 2018) and at Cleveland’s FRONT Tri­en­ni­al in July. 
In this handout photo provided by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, used for the detention of asylum seekers that arrive by boat, are seen on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea in 2012. Photo courtesy of the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship via Getty Images. In this hand­out pho­to pro­vid­ed by the Aus­tralian Depart­ment of Immi­gra­tion and Cit­i­zen­ship, facil­i­ties at the Manus Island Region­al Pro­cess­ing Facil­i­ty, used for the deten­tion of asy­lum seek­ers that arrive by boat, are seen on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea in 2012. Pho­to cour­tesy of the Aus­tralian Depart­ment of Immi­gra­tion and Cit­i­zen­ship via Get­ty Images.
The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on view at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria, or when the work is exhib­it­ed in any oth­er exhi­bi­tion con­text on Aus­tralian soil, until the NGV sev­ers its rela­tion­ship with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty,” Bre­itz wrote on Face­book. She encour­aged oth­er par­tic­i­pat­ing artists to fol­low her lead and sim­i­lar­ly rename their works Wil­son Must Go.” The muse­um has said its use of Wil­son is tem­po­rary. Nei­ther the secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny nor the muse­um imme­di­ate­ly respond­ed to art­net News’s request for com­ment. In 2015, an Aus­tralian Sen­ate report found that there had been 30 alle­ga­tions of child abuse and 15 reports of sex­u­al assault or rape at the deten­tion facil­i­ties over­seen by Wil­son, accord­ing to the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald. The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled in April of 2016 that the Manus Island deten­tion cen­ter was illegal. 
In this handout photo provided by the Australian Department of Immigration, the Nauru Island detention camp for immigrants to Australia was damaged by a 2013 riot. Photo courtesy of the Department of Immigration via Getty Images. In this hand­out pho­to pro­vid­ed by the Aus­tralian Depart­ment of Immi­gra­tion, the Nau­ru Island deten­tion camp for immi­grants to Aus­tralia was dam­aged by a 2013 riot. Pho­to cour­tesy of the Depart­ment of Immi­gra­tion via Get­ty Images.
The com­pa­ny began work at the deten­tion cen­ters as a sub­con­trac­tor for Trans­field Ser­vices, a gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor, in 2012. In 2014, a num­ber of artists protest­ed the Bien­nale of Syd­ney for being spon­sored by Transfield’s par­ent com­pa­ny, Trans­field Hold­ings. Their threats to boy­cott the exhi­bi­tion led the Bien­ni­al to drop to Trans­field as a spon­sor. In an effort to dis­tance itself from the con­tro­ver­sy, Trans­field Hold­ings rebrand­ed Trans­field Ser­vices as Broad­spec­trum in 2015, and sold the com­pa­ny to Span­ish infra­struc­ture giant Ferrovial. 
Protesters hold a rally in Sydney to urge the Australian government to end the refugee crisis on Manus Island on November 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.
Pro­test­ers hold a ral­ly in Syd­ney to urge the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment to end the refugee cri­sis on Manus Island on Novem­ber 4, 2017. Pho­to cour­tesy of Peter Parks/​AFP/​Getty Images.
The con­tracts for Broad­spec­trum and Wil­son were set to expire near the end of Octo­ber, and both com­pa­nies opt­ed to cease their work at the facil­i­ties. The gov­ern­ment shut down the Manus Island camp at the end of Octo­ber — a chaot­ic process. Under a deal bro­kered by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma (to his successor’s dis­plea­sure), some refugees from the cen­ters have reset­tled in the US, with more expect­ed to fol­low. But regard­less of the cur­rent sta­tus of the cen­ter, Wilson’s long-term involve­ment there remains a fact. 
Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin in Candice Breitz's <em>Love Story</em>, a pro-refugee video work now retitled <em>WILSON MUST GO</em> in protest of the National Gallery of Victoria's use of Wilson Security, which ran Australia's controversial offshore immigration detention centers. Video still courtesy of the artist.
Julianne Moore and Alec Bald­win in Can­dice Breitz’s Love Sto­ry, a pro-refugee video work now reti­tled WIL­SON MUST GO in protest of the Nation­al Gallery of Victoria’s use of Wil­son Secu­ri­ty, which ran Australia’s con­tro­ver­sial off­shore immi­gra­tion deten­tion cen­ters. Video still cour­tesy of the artist.
Breitz’s deci­sion to rename her work pos­es an inter­est­ing alter­na­tive to boy­cotting or pulling a work from a show in protest of a spon­sor or con­trac­tor. I trust,” Bre­itz wrote, that the NGV will receive this ges­ture as one of sol­i­dar­i­ty, sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Triennial’s focus on forced dis­place­ment, but more impor­tant­ly, sol­i­dar­i­ty with all refugees and asy­lum seek­ers who have been or remain sub­ject to the cru­el­ty of the Aus­tralian off­shore deten­tion régime, as enforced by agents like Wil­son Secu­ri­ty.” Read Breitz’s state­ment in full below.
» WHY I’M SAB­O­TAG­ING MY OWN WORK « +++++++ WIL­SON MUST GO ++++++++++++ I am one of many artists par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Nation­al Gallery of Victoria’s inau­gur­al NGV Tri­en­ni­al, an exhi­bi­tion that is sched­uled to open in Mel­bourne this week. Move­ment’ is one of five themes that frame the Tri­en­ni­al. Con­se­quent­ly, the exhi­bi­tion includes a num­ber of works that engage with and rep­re­sent the glob­al cri­sis of dis­place­ment. My own work, LOVE STO­RY, a video instal­la­tion that evolves out of inter­views with six indi­vid­u­als who have fled their coun­tries in response to a vari­ety of oppres­sive con­di­tions, has been enabled and acquired by the NGV for the Tri­en­ni­al, via a gen­er­ous artist com­mis­sion. It has come to my atten­tion, via the Artists’ Com­mit­tee (an infor­mal asso­ci­a­tion of Mel­bourne-based artists and arts work­ers), that secu­ri­ty ser­vices at the NGV are cur­rent­ly pro­vid­ed by a pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor called Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. On their web­site, Wil­son claims to offer the high­est lev­el of pro­tec­tion and peace of mind for [their] cus­tomers across myr­i­ad indus­tries and com­plex busi­ness sce­nar­ios.’ Under con­tract to the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment, how­ev­er, Wil­son secu­ri­ty has vio­lent­ly enforced the impris­on­ment of refugees and peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in Australia’s off­shore immi­gra­tion deten­tion cen­tres. The hor­rif­ic effects of indef­i­nite manda­to­ry deten­tion are well-doc­u­ment­ed. The alle­ga­tions against Wil­son Secu­ri­ty since the com­mence­ment of their con­tracts on Manus Island and Nau­ru in 2012 are exten­sive and dis­turb­ing. While I am grate­ful for the immense sup­port I have received from the NGV, it would be moral­ly remiss, in light of the above knowl­edge, for me to remain silent in the con­text of the cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion that is tak­ing place around the Aus­tralian government’s ongo­ing and sys­tem­at­ic abuse of refugees. I have been assured by the NGV that the con­trac­tu­al rela­tion­ship between the gallery and Wil­son Secu­ri­ty is of a tem­po­rary nature. I have been told that the ten­der­ing process that will cul­mi­nate in the appoint­ment of a more per­ma­nent con­trac­tor is at an advanced stage. As such, the response that this state­ment artic­u­lates is itself poten­tial­ly of a tem­po­rary nature: With imme­di­ate effect, the work of art that was for­mer­ly known as LOVE STO­RY will car­ry the new title WIL­SON MUST GO. The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on view at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria, or when the work is exhib­it­ed in any oth­er exhi­bi­tion con­text on Aus­tralian soil, until the NGV sev­ers its rela­tion­ship with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. Until that point, the work will con­tin­ue to speak its objec­tion to being under the sur­veil­lance of a secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor that com­mits human rights abus­es in Australia’s off­shore deten­tion cen­tres. Until that point, all NGV pub­li­ca­tions of any nature, all pub­lic dis­cus­sions host­ed by the NGV, any edu­ca­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions con­duct­ed around the work at the NGV, any and all press com­mu­ni­ca­tions issued by the gallery, and all wall texts and cap­tions, shall refer to the work as WIL­SON MUST GO. The title of the work will auto­mat­i­cal­ly revert to LOVE STO­RY if and when Wil­son goes. Should they wish to, I invite oth­er Tri­en­ni­al artists who may share my dis­com­fort at hav­ing their works under the sur­veil­lance of Wil­son Secu­ri­ty, to tem­porar­i­ly rename their own works WIL­SON MUST GO. It is extreme­ly unfor­tu­nate that indi­vid­ual secu­ri­ty work­ers who are cur­rent­ly engaged at the NGV may expe­ri­ence neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions as a result of this inter­ven­tion. The NGV has assured me that fair treat­ment of their secu­ri­ty staff is of high pri­or­i­ty. I have every rea­son to believe that the NGV will pro­vide secure work­ing con­di­tions for their secu­ri­ty staff, and wish to make clear that this inter­ven­tion in no way wish­es to tar­get spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als who cur­rent­ly pro­vide secu­ri­ty ser­vices on NGV premis­es. The moral fail­ure char­ac­ter­is­ing the Aus­tralian government’s refugee pol­i­cy is all the more deplorable in a nation that has been forged through sto­ries of mobil­i­ty.’ As the NGV Tri­en­ni­al cat­a­logue states, The chal­lenge of hos­pi­tal­i­ty is not an abstract philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem or a minor polit­i­cal issue.’ I have expe­ri­enced my inter­locu­tors at the NGV to be deeply attuned to the hor­rif­ic con­di­tions and chal­lenges fac­ing refugees and asy­lum seek­ers world­wide. I trust that the NGV will receive this ges­ture as one of sol­i­dar­i­ty, sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Triennial’s focus on forced dis­place­ment, but more impor­tant­ly, sol­i­dar­i­ty with all refugees and asy­lum seek­ers who have been or remain sub­ject to the cru­el­ty of the Aus­tralian off­shore deten­tion régime, as enforced by agents like Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. Can­dice Bre­itz Mel­bourne, 12 Decem­ber 2017
Pho­to­graph of Can­dice Bre­itz by Hel­ga Traxler. Arti­cle link: Click
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