Candice Breitz / South Africa b.1972 / King (a portrait of Michael Jackson) (composite) 2005 / 16-channel video installation: 42:20 minutes, colour, sound / 500 x 1200cm (installed, variable) / Purchased 2008 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Candice Breitz

Candice Breitz
King (a portrait of Michael Jackson) (composite) 2005

Not Currently on Display

King (a portrait of Michael Jackson) is a multi-screen video installation in which 16 of Jackson’s most ardent fans simultaneously present their interpretation of his 1982 chart-topping album, Thriller.

Candice Breitz recruited participants via advertisements she placed in Michael Jackson fan sites in newspapers and magazines. After a rigorous process designed to find the most authentic and fanatical respondents, without any consideration given to their ability to sing or dance, 16 fans were given the opportunity to perform the entire Thriller album in a professional recording studio.

In the resulting work, the viewer is presented with an extraordinary a cappella version of the record by the fans singing in unison. Shot in screen-test mode and presented in a grid on a wall of screens, the installation is both compelling and cringe-worthy — an affectionate glimpse at passionate consumers and the power structures inherent in mass media.

Jackson is absent from the work, neither seen nor heard, but instead represented through this collective performance by his fans. Ultimately, we are presented with 16 separate portraits, each of which is mediated through the celebrity persona of Michael Jackson.

Candice Breitz was born in 1972 in Johannesburg and currently lives and works in Berlin. She has participated in many major exhibitions including the Johannesburg, São Paulo, Istanbul, Kwangju, Taipei and Venice biennales.

In her practice, Breitz appropriates materials from mass culture for video installations to comment on society’s adoration of celebrity. Her video portraits of Annie Lennox and Whitney Houston were first seen in Australia in the 2004 ‘Video Hits: Art and Music Video’ exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery.

Breitz has examined the status of pop stars and their influence on popular culture, through works such as Queen (a portrait of Madonna) 2005, and Legend (a portrait of Bob Marley) 2005.

Discussion Questions

1. Listening to music is a popular shared human experience. How do music and song draw us into expressive movement and dance?

2. How do participants and viewers engage with Michael Jackson in Candice Breitz’s work?

3. Analyse the artwork’s presentation to unpack ideas about how human movement can communicate knowledge about popular culture.

Classroom Activities

Identify two popular pastimes in our society that encourage people to share a collective human experience. What similar factors are at play? Using these similarities, represent human movement associated with these experiences using a visual medium of your choice.