Come face to face with Leonard Cohen in I’m Your Man’

Emma Froggatt
The Upsider, 8 January 2018

Video artist Can­dice Breitz’s work is incred­i­bly intimate.

Walk into Melbourne’s Anna Schwartz gallery from Jan­u­ary 30, 2018 and you’ll enter a space that resem­bles more of a cin­e­ma than a gallery. But what you hear will be 1988 Leonard Cohen album I’m Your Man, sung by his most beloved fans. For the first time in the gallery’s 25-year his­to­ry, the icon­ic space is being trans­formed into a com­plete­ly black box cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ence’ as cura­to­r­i­al direc­tor Anais Lel­louche puts it. Huge state-of-the-art screens have been installed for the pre­sen­ta­tion of Can­dice Bre­itz’ mul­ti-chan­nel video work I’m Your Man: A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen. The South African-born Berlin-based artist pre­sent­ed her last iter­a­tion in the series on the anthro­pol­o­gy of the fan in 2015 at Anna Schwartz’ Syd­ney gallery. That time, she exhib­it­ed Work­ing Class Hero: A Por­trait of John Lennon.
Leonard Cohen I'm your man Anna Schwartz Gallery

Still from I’m Your Man (A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen), 2017. Com­mis­sioned by the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal. Cour­tesy: Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne.

I’m Your Man: A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen is her most recent in a series that has cov­ered Madon­na, Michael Jack­son and Bob Mar­ley. But Bre­itz’ por­trait of Leonard Cohen is dif­fer­ent – and not only because it cen­tres on fans of Cohen’s own gen­er­a­tion, men over the age of 65 from Mon­tréal, the city he grew up in. In this iter­a­tion, view­ers stand face to face with Leonard Cohen’s fans – 18 of them to be pre­cise – who deliv­er his come­back album on screens that are almost one-to-human in scale, just a lit­tle small­er than the height of the aver­age male. It’s a very per­son­al engage­ment” Lel­louche says, like most engage­ments are with Cohen. 
As Bre­itz opened audi­tions for the por­trait piece – for the record­ing of fans’ own ama­teur ver­sions of Cohen’s come­back album – to third age res­i­dents of Mon­tréal, this por­trait feels even more so a sear­ing per­son­al engage­ment. These men walked the streets, vis­it­ed the same parks, gal­leries, schools as Cohen. With their ver­sions of Cohen’s album record­ed in a stu­dio in Old Mon­tréal, their inter­pre­ta­tions of his songs are wide-rang­ing, run­ning the gamut of how each fan came to know and love the late poet in their own way. It’s a por­trait of a gen­er­a­tion,” Lel­louche says, a social por­trait of time and place… The respons­es are very indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, exu­ber­ant, qui­et, reflec­tive… the indi­vid­u­al­i­ty comes in a lot.” 
Leonard Cohen I'm your man Anna Schwartz Gallery

Still from I’m Your Man (A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen), 2017. Com­mis­sioned by the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal. Cour­tesy: Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne.

The mul­ti-chan­nel por­traits, like many of Bre­itz’ por­traits of fans, mim­ic the flow and dura­tion of the orig­i­nal albums they take as their tem­plate. Togeth­er, their voic­es cre­ate a tapes­try of how a city and peo­ple embraced him. The per­for­mances are can­did, earnest and gen­er­ous. Adding anoth­er lay­er to the inti­ma­cy of the work is the fact Bre­itz paired the sin­gu­lar por­traits of fans with back­ing vocals per­formed by the Shaar Hashomay­im Syn­a­gogue Choir, the all-male choir Cohen belonged to his entire life. There’s a com­mu­nal ele­ment to the work, which seems to echo Bre­itz’ long-run­ning fas­ci­na­tion with how indi­vid­u­als become them­selves, grow, actu­alise, in rela­tion to a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty. Lel­louche agrees you can feel peo­ple are bond­ing over their love for one per­son. That” she says, has been a con­sis­tent point of reflec­tion for the artist.” 

Can­dice Bre­itz Pho­to: Till Cremer.

Bre­itz has weaved the sto­ries of celebri­ties and their fans del­i­cate­ly through her var­i­ous por­traits, and this exhi­bi­tion pro­vides anoth­er prism through which to view the artist, whose work is also on dis­play at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria. That instal­la­tion, Wil­son Must Go, for­mer­ly known as Love Sto­ry, is on show as part of the NGV’s inau­gur­al Tri­en­ni­al. Cen­tred around one of the Triennial’s key themes, Move­ment, the work con­sid­ers the glob­al scale of the refugee cri­sis. In the video instal­la­tion, actors Alec Bald­win and Julianne Moore and oth­er fig­ures retell the tes­ti­monies of peo­ple who have been forced to flee their home coun­tries. There’s an inter­est­ing con­nec­tion between the stars in one work and the peo­ple who are look­ing at them,” Lel­louche says, com­ment­ing on the way Bre­itz’ uses celebri­ties to pro­voke new inter­pre­ta­tions. They are dif­fer­ent, but they reit­er­ate some­thing about Can­dice,” she says. I’m Your Man: A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen is a heart­felt work – one that con­nects one of the 21st century’s most beloved artist’s with the res­i­dents of his home­town and com­mu­ni­ty in a way that rever­ber­ates glob­al­ly. Com­mis­sioned by the Musee d’Art Con­tem­po­rain for their 2017 homage to the late poet and musi­cian, the work was orig­i­nal­ly envis­aged for the Mon­tréal museum’s exhi­bi­tion, Une breche en toute chose (a crack in every­thing). It also pro­vides a unique insight to the artist who told an inter­view­er in 2006: I feel at home when I’m in Mon­tréal – in a way that I don’t feel any­where else.” (Lead image: Still from I’m Your Man (A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen), 2017. Com­mis­sioned by the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal. Cour­tesy: Anna Schwartz Gallery, Mel­bourne / Por­trait image: Can­dice Bre­itz Pho­to: Till Cremer)  Arti­cle link: here
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