Four Duets spans nearly half a century of the most sentimental pop tunes. The music video performances that serve as the source material for the work - but which ultimately live on only as digitally mutilated and autistic chains of stammering pronouns - are: Karen Carpenter’s Close To You (1970), Olivia Newton John’s Hopelessly Devoted To You (1977), Annie Lennox’s Thorn In My Side (1985) and Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You (1999). Revisiting and rewriting the four ballads, Breitz dramatizes the absurdly inescapable longing which allows songs like these to endure from generation to generation.
In each of the four duets, the same performer appears twice on two different television monitors. On one screen of Double Olivia, for example, Olivia regurgitates only the personal pronouns `Me/My/I,’ now isolated and repeated in a violently staccato tourette-like stutter, while on a second screen an alternate edit of the same footage leaves us with only her dreamily intoned looping of the word `You,’ which is trapped in a similarly recursive cut and paste cycle. Bracketed between the two monitors, one is caught between Olivia Newton John’s “I” and her “You,” the inescapable variables of desire performed for us by a disturbingly bifurcated Sandra- Dee. Hopelessly Devoted To You (part of the soundtrack of Grease) was first released in 1977, but is set in an American high school in 1959. Double Olivia thus revisits 1959 as seen through the eyes of 1977 from the vantage point of the year 2000, collapsing nearly half a century of nostalgia into 2 endlessly recurring loops which play on mercilessly but which are in themselves only 6 seconds (“I Loop”) and 29 seconds (“You Loop”) in length.
Each of the remaining three Duets is a similarly structured condensation of a lovesong into its two crucial structural components, an “I Loop” and a “You Loop,” now set in a somewhat short-circuited and schizophrenic dialogue with one another. The duets call up their decades with a painful and sometimes cringe-worthy specificity (Karen Carpenter’s bangs unmistakably announce the end of the ‘sixties, while Annie Lennox’s chic platinum spikes are pure ‘eighties).
As a series, the Four Duets make disturbingly visible the speed with which each new cultural moment is now reified, only to be consumed almost immediately as the lucrative kitsch of the next generation. In conflating the digital loop with the historical loop of pop culture, they address our need to constantly reinvent and market the past. That retro is now indeed Retro is testimony to the planned obsolescence and eventual return of even the quaintest jukebox ballad or music video.