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March 27 2009 6 27 /03 /March /2009 11:11

How to render sensitive the immaterial power of the word, and confer to this latter a similar impact to the one of the image? This is the whole work of the American artist Jenny Holzer, displayed until May 31 in the exhibition “PROTECT PROTECT” at the Whitney Museum.

In the filiations of minimal and conceptual art, the aim of this courageous artist, who has been seeking to give the art back to the streets, hasn’t always been understood. We should then welcome the effort of the Whitney for giving access to her ideas, without nevertheless popularizing it.

Three directions, three materials, with on the one hand a great denunciation of the inherent violence of the aggressive politics, and on the other hand a verb poetic which touch us straight in the heart.


Electronic signs


It is especially through the electronic medium that Jenny Holzer got well known. By using the LED technology (light-emitting diode), she wrote texts (the most famous are The Truismes (1977-1979) and the Inflammatory Essays (1979-1982) – presented in the exhibition), which are scrolling on large electronic bands. At the image of advertising messages, she diverts the mass medias, first to convey us strong ideas as “the absolute submissoion could be a form of freedom”, “the deepest things are inexpressible” or “Humanism is obsolete”. Against the confinement of art in closed spaces such as galleries or museum, she delivers her message to the highest number of people in displaying them in the same places than advertising panels or in projecting them on buildings, all over the world : From Vienna to Rio de Janeiro, passing by London and Washington, Jenny Holzer wants to share.
Beside, she barely signs her works, likes collaborations with other artists. She also offers us magnificent texts of poets, like the one of the polish Wislawa Szymborska, displayed on buildings in Chicago, at the occasion of her last exhibition. The topics are variable, but all create bridges over distinctive universe, as private and public, fact and fiction, and resonate in us in a poetical way.
Because whether her words attract or repel us, they have such a catching power that they instantly echo in our intimacy. Each work is built with intensive care. The fonts and the colors of the texts, the speed of the scrolling, the format of the panel and where they are located are planed in relation with the effect she looks for. Thus, a field of forces gets created, and the viewer, or the passer-by, finds himself absorbed by the image, or the verb. In fact, since the verb becomes image and vice et versa, Jenny Holzer goes beyond the traditional frontier between signified and significant. She blurs our bearings and reveals in all its splendor the power of the verb, today so often left behind for the pure image.
In her more recent works, like Purple (2008), the artist brought her words for elsewhere, in declassified documents of the American government, like the one about international trade in arm and oil. Since these are displayed in closed spaces, the possibility of multiplying the electronics bands and installing them in a powerful way opens up. This is the whole interest of the exhibition, which displays those electronics signs in more intimate, but also more aggressive way, since those lighted diodes, with bright colors, scrolling and scrolling, sometimes don’t let us time to breath. Here we don’t raise the eye by chance, the propagation’s force of the light goes directly into our look and pervades us deep into the eye. The verb catches our body…


Redaction painting
and Lustmord

Since 1977, Holzer abandonned painting for the words. In the series of the redaction painting, she comes back to the medium, trough text but also prints and photographs. This is a group of oil painting on linen where the artist also brought his sources from the declassified documents of the American government, but dealing specifically with the Iraq war. Here, she reproducts identically texts and images from the National Security of the Archives and from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Here, the gestures consist the highlighting of a crude, dry and acid truth of the secrets politics of her government. Autopsy reports, invasion plans of Iraq, documents related to detainee interrogation… everything is put her, in front of us, as a group of proofs gathered for a trial. No transformation, no truism added is required to denunciate violence and injustice. It is enough to report the government’s own words. The absence of intervention just increase the impact of those works. No need to divert, the only transposition shouts its own truth.

Lustmord is an installation which was prompted by the atrocities of the Ex-Yugoslavia war. Lustmord is the association of two German words: Lust, which means desire, and Mord which signifies murder or assassination. In German this building of words is ambiguous and can convey in the same time “sex-murder”, but also “rape-slaying”, “lust-killing”. This installation was at first a group of photographs (a selection is displayed on the exhibition), representing written sentences on human bodies. Those are fragments, following various points of view like the one the victim or the torturer, testimonies of horrible facts such as “she acts like a left animal for cooking”, “she has no taste left to her and this makes it easier for me”. For the exhibition the installation is composed by a group of human bones, masculine and feminine, lying on a wooden table. On the bones we discover silver bands where are engraved those same fragments. The choice of the material is here of a great intelligence. It puts into light with power the eternal mark of the violence which went trough the flesh and even penetrated until the bone. The fact of not engraving directly on it but on a silver band could refer to those chain bracelets we conserve all our life, where initials or significant sentence keeps rubbing against our skin. But here there is no more protection, no more frontier between the verb and our intimacy, since those women or girls got hurt far beyond their skin. The sanctuary of Lustmord could be the incarnation of the deep violence of this war, too often left apart.



“PROTECT PROTECT” makes us go deep into the creation of Jenny Holzer, but also lights up a clear evolution of her work. Always working on the relations between the verb and the image; the word, which was constantly dematerializing through those electronic signs, gets in line with the material, takes from it more power, and depth. Breaking the individualist convention trough a lot of collaborations and open spaces exhibitions. Diverting with skill the mass media and denunciating with power what rebels her, she touches us in our intimacy, thanks to a great dynamic created by the play between the language and the medium.


[Visuals : Above : Jenny Holzer, Green Purple Cross, 2008, and Blue Cross, 2008. Three double-sided electronic LED signs (two with blue and green diodes on front and blue and red diodes on back and one with blue and red diodes on front and blue and green diodes on back); and seven double-sided electronic LED signs with blue diodes on front and blue and red diodes on back. 59 x 122 5/8 x 100 11/16 in. (149.9 x 311.4 x 255.8 cm); and 85 13/16 x 109 x 100 11/16 in. (217.9 x 276.9 x 255.8 cm). Installation view: Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, 2008. Texts: Erlauf, 1995, Arno, 1996, Blue, 1998 (Green Purple Cross); and Arno, 1996 (Blue Cross). © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Lili Holzer-Glier. Collection of the artist; courtesy Yvon Lambert, Paris (Green Purple Cross); and David Roberts Art Foundation, London (Blue Cross). In the middle : Jenny Holzer, "WISH LIST pewter", 2008. Oil on linen. 58 x 44 x 1 1/2 in. (147.3 x 111.8 x 3.8 cm). Links: http://www.aclu.org/projects/foiasearch/pdf/DOD054971.pdf, page 70. © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), N. Below : Jenny Holzer, "Lustmord", 1994. Human bones, engraved silver, and wood table. 34 x 70 x 44 1/2 in. (86.4 x 177.8 x 113 cm). Installation view: Cheim & Read, New York, 2007. Text: "Lustmord", 1993-95. © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Christopher Burke. Collection of the artist; courtesy Cheim & Read, New York ]


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