By Michelle Yap
Video installations dominated this year’s Singapore Biennale, some not too impressive, maybe just because I am not able to relate to them, or they were too lengthy, my attention starts drifting away when I am not even five minutes into the pieces. Not that being lengthy is a bad thing, but it should be long for a reason, if not it just ends up losing the audience’s interest. The artist may have had a really interesting concept to present, but somehow failed to deliver.
It’s ironic to be saying this, but the piece that caught my attention and drew me in is possibly the lengthiest piece in the Biennale, Factum by Candice Breitz. The artist conducted several interviews with seven pairs of identical twins and a single set of triplets in and around Toronto, during the summer of 2009. The intimate placement of the videos of the twins, which seem like a “split image”, already appealed to me. Especially when the twins are wearing identical clothes and placed in identical backgrounds, most of them very domesticated. I was curious to know why would an artist place an almost identical image beside another. Aesthetically it gives the viewer an impression of something identical, but not exactly identical. This complex relationship between the two images draws curiosity.
So, what exactly is a ‘factum’? By definition, it is supposed to mean, a statement of the facts of a case. Somehow this definition drew me to more of a “court case” scenario instead of an interview, a criminal or victim giving their statement to the police. So now, trying to make sense out of this piece, I interpret it as a “documentary” about having to live with a twin, and a “confession” of internal conflict, psychological and emotional, an identity crisis, and even a statement about what the twins enjoy about having a twin. We see their relationship on a really superficial level, and never expect so much to come out of the work. I have often thought about what it is like to have to see yourself, in someone else everyday. Do twins ever crave for individuality or do they like, to a certain extent having someone identical around. The Misericordia twins mention how their husbands coped with having to deal with seeing someone who looks like their wife. And I would feel kind of disgusted having to put myself in the situation, or maybe confused to think about someone else having a similar looking husband or wife as mine. It is disturbing. It does not feel “special” anymore in a sense there is someone similar to someone else that you love, and almost identical. It is a tough issue to address, in the end; it might end up being so complex that you question yourself, who is “The One”.
I find the fact that, perhaps this video is somehow “documentary-like”, and that Breitz “invades” into the documentation of their real life account. She takes complete control of how she wants the video to look by requesting to have them dressed identically, and they are filmed in their desired background. Breitz reiterated that if they were not comfortable with the questions posed to them, they could choose to keep quiet and let the other twin speak, and this is evident during the installation when one twin speaks and the other just keeps quiet or the screen even goes blank, just to emphasize the presence of that twin, himself or herself. The artist possesses power and is in very firm control of the image. The isolation of the twins during the interview, definitely helps them to break through the barriers of having to be the “same”, bringing out the different personalities, giving them each their own character.
The concept of the video feels like an “open-close circuit”, blanking out at certain stage, when one video disappears and then occasionally recovering the connection and syncing back with each other again when both screens come back to life. I see the duality and repetition as a form of consistency and confirmation, just as how both twins actually start repeating what they have said, is like a form of reassurance and confirmation for each other. It suddenly makes them conscious of what they have been feeling, and so used to keeping it within themselves that they are unaware of what the other party is thinking about.
To have to speak and expose your personal life to an audience is a difficult condition to embrace, but even so when I see them wipe off their tears, it is as if they managed to break free from something that has been pulling them back from living their life to the fullest. Breitz has successfully put the audience in this intimate space that we were never in, in our lives. It is like in a sense being “them”, entering their personal “space”. There are some things that I believe are not easy to be expressed in words.
And lastly, Breitz instructed the twins to be filmed against a similar backdrop, as if stylized and customized to suit their individual characters, the kind of person or background that both twins have in general. For example the triplets who are models are put against a white plain background, similar to those of a photo shoot studio, probably juxtaposing their jobs, their background with their character. The two images force us to see them as a whole, but eventually forces us not to see them as one due to the conflicting ideologies and behavior.
However, (after the Simon Fujiwara incident) now everyone is talking about censorship, what we can show and what we should censor from audiences. Censorship is everywhere. The artist herself definitely removed a whole lot of content from what she recorded and now we question if that means that the content of the video becomes Breitz’s own story or even her own opinion rather then the twins’.