Friday, April 25, 2008

Toxic Titties

I missed Pietra Brettkelly's film about Vanessa Beecroft, which played last night as part of the Hot Docs film festival, but a cover story in this week's NOW magazine makes it seem pretty riveting. Brettkelly and crew followed Beecroft to Sudan, to document the creation of her work for last year's Venice Biennale, which involved 30 Sudanese women lie face down on a white canvas on the ground to represent the genocide in Darfur. The filmmaker likely got more than she bargained for as the film, titled Art Star, ultimately became about Beecroft's attempt to adopt a pair of Sudanese twins. She met the motherless babies at an orphanage, and still lactating from the recent birth of her own child, proceeded to breastfeed them. This led to an overwhelming desire to adopt the children and take them home to NYC with her.

According to the review, the film presents Beecroft as a complex character, with a genuine desire to help. Brettkelly herself is less certain about the ethics of an affluent New Yorker taking children away from their village (and father!). “Whether I agreed with what Vanessa was doing or how she was acting, I had to appreciate the strong passion within her," she says.

Presumably the film also touches on the potential exploitation of the models in Beecroft's work. I met the artist Heather Cassils a few years ago and she told a few stories about participating in one of Beecroft's performances. Her involvement led her to her own project, with the group Toxic Titties, which she describes here:

I was hired, with Toxic Titties collaborator Clover Leary, to perform in Vanessa Beecroft's VB46 at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. In our parasitical performance Beecroft Intervention, we hijacked Beecroft's work and subverted her vision by influencing other performers, engaging them in a critical dialogue, and by unionising them, which forced up the cost of their labor. We have authored a critical essay that was published in Signs Magazine in 2006. It is an insider account that assess and rejects the dominant claims surrounding Beecroft's work. Our reformulation of this work reads VB46 against the grain by reasserting the subjectivity of the models, who have been homogenised and objectified, and by revealing the troubling mechanisms of production.

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