--- H O L L Y J O H N S O N
In August 2000 the Republican National Conference descended upon
Philadelphia. Not to be outdone, the Kimmel Center for the Performing
Arts invited their own delegate: artist Jenny
Holzer. Holzer's electronic installation of moving sentences and
questions ran thourghout the convention, and included selections from
her best-known work, Truisms. Below, Holzer talks about public art,
slogans, and who she would elect as the next president.
I'm going to read you four statements and I want you to try to guess
where they're from.
Jenny Holzer: Hmm. I'm completely stumped.
HJ: These are four of George W. Bush's principles of reform for education. How do you interpret them?
JH: Achieve equality, that's a lie. Promote excellence, that would be an exclusive. Stop funding failure, that's honest, or stop funding anyway, for public schools. Restore local control, that's a way to get public education in the United States.
HJ: Do you think these statements bear any resemblance linguistically to your Truisms?
JH: I don't know about linguistically. I think our purposes are different, at least I hope so. I'm trying to make people at the very least skeptical and willing to wonder what you should do when you're confronted with statements like this. I'm not sure whether these are supposed to make you think or to make you stop thinking.
HJ: Your installation is timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention. I think this is interesting because your Truisms often resemble political slogans. You would have been a great speech writer. How do you feel about that comparison?
JH: I feel a little more comfortable writing things that invite people to think about slogans rather than to subscribe to particular positions. The Truisms in particular are especially all about that to make you consider the subjects but also consider what it means when someone is flinging these statements at you.
With other series of writing if its about something I'm absolutely clear is a horrible thing, I will write directly to the subject and it won't be about a more contemplative analysis of language. It will be about the fact that "rape and war is a crime." It depends on the body of writing how I write and to what end.
HJ: Why as a visual artist do you choose words. Are they images or are they messages?
JH: They're both. In some pieces the message will dominate, and in other works the content is almost dissolved by the presentation, which seems to be like modern life, one too many things wash over you and you're incapable of grabbing hold of them.
HJ: You often answer questions "both."
JH: There's a lot of life that's both and more. I think if you're accurate about what's going on at any given time it's both, plus. Two sides are dangerous. That's how you start a fight.
HJ: Have we lost our attention span?
JH: We haven't lost it but it's shorter all the time. I try to deliver the goods in just a few seconds if that's the only time that I have. That said, what I try to do is then assemble a host of short things, so that if someone is willing to give the complete series time you have complications, you have some richness, you have some contradictions. Bbecause otherwise I would be guilty of sloganeering, if I just made the three second jobs.
HJ: With both the Republicans and protestors here in town, there are going to be a lot of slogans going back and forth. How do you feel about that as a way to have a dialog?
JH: That's not unlike the Truisms, where different points of view are not in dialogue, just coexisting, and it's one reason I wrote them, because I was in despair. Because that sort of approach doesn't yield anything except on a happy day, tolerance. When you have all opinions present you don't get anywhere because they're standing alone and they're not in dialogue. So I made [Truisms] as a sad memorial to that kind of situation.
HJ: The Guerrilla Girls are also presenting a retrospective of their political posters here at the Print Center. I've always associated them with you, since you both used the public space to communicate. Do you agree with that?
JH: It's fair to say the Guerrilla Girls and I employed the same methods. We would hang things in the street for people's consideration, not only because it was an accessible means to an end but also because we wanted to talk to the sorts of people who might just be walking by, rather than a fine arts audience indoors. I think it's a fine way to go about talking to people.
HJ: Does it distress you that marginal groups, like women artists, have to take to the streets to get their message out, rather than being recognized by mainstream media?
JH: The ideal is to have both, that's why I worked with the street posters and the little stickers and that's why I turned to the big electronics like the one at Time Square, because you should occupy the Big Brother media as well as the basement workshop.
HJ: How was it a change to go from the smaller poster to the larger video screens?
JH: I adored the posters and I think they functioned very well, I thought that was a solution, but then I wanted to see how it would change your looking at the material if it's in an official medium, the thing that usually give you the weather and the news, all that good stuff, advertising. I was interested in fooling around with that.
HJ: In the best of all possible worlds, who would you elect as president?
JH: I kind of like the idea of Oprah for president. That's maybe not the best of all possible worlds, but better than the two guys.
HJ: Why Oprah?
JH: Her father didn't think she would be president.
© crossconnect 1995-2000
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |