g r i e f   b e c o m e s   y o u

Jenny Holzer

you are so complex that you dont always react to danger

I want to write a little about Jenny Holzer"s work, and about the talking-listening-thinking that surrounds it . I do this without knowing quite what it is I want to say, in hopes that I can make things a little clearer for myself and in hopes that maybe there are others, perhaps you, who share some of these considerations.   I wonder about horror, and how one thinks/feels horror.

There is something unsatisfactory in the telling of horror. Almost as if the mode of relating the horror becomes the mode of perpetuation and moves no further than death, or shame-guilt-remorse, placated only by a liason with (G)od.  

Listed whilst listening :   shame  remorse prayer   atonement reparation and faith vigilance  telling rhetoric  knowing    

Empathy. I want to empathize. To come close to the understanding of no understanding of the terrible nature implicit in what it is to be human. And to insist on a quiet fluid vigilance which refuses the manifestation of terror in sanctified group hysteria: of war, rape, genocide.

w(h)ere things break down … w()here the text-bone dissolves.

LUSTMORD translates from German as "rape-slaying' or 'sex-killing'

The Art Museum is a barn of a building. Cement floor. Darkened interior. Bleak modernist cube. There is no cautious entry. An automatic sliding door opens immediately into the space of the work. Heavy quiet …

To the right are six LED screens with vertically scrolling text. Streaming text. Screaming text. Testimony of the victims, the witnesses, the perpertrators.

To the left is a simple wooden table. It could be a dinner table. Laid out in regular rows, "composed, measured …" (Joanne Harris, Adelaide Advertiser. March 12, 1998) are what appear to be leg bones, and ribs - creamy white clean and tiny little bones that look like the upper wing bone of a chicken. The sockets are different, uncomfortably familiar and, perfectly beautiful.

Slighly to the left and opposing the table are four more LED screens. scrolling the vertical text of the perpertrators. (up from the floor) reads like cinematic pornography and terror. known, and ordinary.

Then a smaller room (it goes on) … three more wooden tables … a repetition of bones … in rows … neat equidistant … teeth - discoloured and chipped.

When the only reasonable tool is the grid, the category, the archive.

"I did it so I could stay with the work," and "Something needed to be said" Jenny Holzer

a d j e c t i v e   f l e s h

Bones for sale. the bones are purchased. ('..my art supply shop, the yellow pages..' Jenny Holzer, Artist's Week )

'Would the bones be better honoured if they were used for scientific experimentation or medical training'. (Julie Ewington. Mercury Cinema)

LED LED LED As metaphor, the LED as dehumanizing force does not compute for me. its coldness, its machinic repetition. (vertical, tumbling electronic waterfall, trying hard to run from themselves. a madness, crazy sped) But the colours are hot, fun, the colour of cartoons and comforting consumer items. I work in this medium and it does not scare me. It is at times enriching, engaging and humanizing. Would the word (bones) be better honoured with more space for contemplation. I take them with me.

She has no taste left to her and this makes it easier for me / She tried to be clean when she died...I see her trail / She roots with her blunt face / I am near her milk / I tell her to soap herself / I watch her while she thinks about me / Her swallow reflex is gone / She acts like an animal left for cooking / I position her mouth / I fuck her where she has too much hair / Your awful language is in the air by my head / I have the blood jelly / I feel your shoulder bone under your hands and I know what will come to you

Someone questions the difficulty of reading the text inscribed on the metal bands that circle some of the bones. JH says the intention was to make the viewer pick up the bones. A collective gasp of horror rises from the audience.

The bones are surprisingly light. Now permission has been granted we pick them up, feel the weight and after reading the bands (like pigeon considerations," this is where I'm from, send me home", or, "this belongs in this category"), replace them on the wooden table. quiet thunk. to hold and feel the weight of a human bone, the weight of a human life, the remains.

A man leaves, whistling. Another reaches for a femur. He withdraws his hand. Surpassing his horror, he tries again. His touch is tentative, a stroke. He does not pick it up. He replaces his hand in his pocket.

Fiona Foley suggests the work is sanitized/ing. Appropriation with no name. For those who can, to touch - to hold the bones is easily done. No pain lost t-here. Why do I desire a disgusting experience? stickyness, odour. . . . matter of the subject. Is it because without it I feel morally bereft amongst a work of such horrific intent. Am i inured to the supposed dehumanizing pulse of Liquid Electronic Display. ...is it horror that reminds us of our humaness?   "I have to go to hell to be able to write anything. I want to write with less shame" Holzer. Artist's Week

As Jenny Holzer speaks I am thinking, is her recent work in the public space of church, monastery, memorial [ a fall to ] religion? Or god? A re-turn to reparation?

Someone promises (threatens?) a collection bowl to contribute to Artist's week costs. "It's not a joke," says Julie Ewington

Holzer's recent work invokes a certain spiritual engagement, a consideration of the monumentality of time, history and human suffering. There is presence in the space larger than its physical structure. Those who walk through the door noisy with the street are soon silenced by the brevity of the work. From the street to the church (Truisms to Lustmord) with a certain scriptural rhetoric- - playing with telling - - a telling text - - rhetoric of knowing

Teri Hoskin

1998 Adelaide Festival Visual Arts Program - Sacred and Profane
University of South Australia Art Museum; Jenny Holzer at Artists Week; Mercury Cinema, ABC Radio National Interview, with Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth, Fiona Foley, Julie Ewington, Charles Green