Jenny Holzer, Protect Me From What I Want
I find that I am constantly drawn to work of any kind that uses the written word. There is a direct, human quality (as we are the only currently known species to communicate with written symbols), while still retaining some air of mystery behind its creation and intention. Because of these thoughts, I was immediately interested in the text-based work of Jenny Holzer. Holzer’s text work, which she calls “Truisms” stretch from detailing “common myths” to phrases about random subjects that take the form of slogans (designboom). Examples of this slogan-like quality, which in my opinion, adds to the mystery of what are these message’s intentions include: “Money creates taste,” “Enjoy yourself because you can’t change anything anyway,” and “Don’t place to much trust in experts.” These quick, thought-provoking statements mimic advertising in where they are placed – billboards, coffee mugs, commercials on cable/network TV – and they “…Question what our eyes can see and can’t see in the media” and end up questioning if we have any control over the information that is provided to us (designboom).
Holzer began to work with text while she was earning her BFA at Ohio University, where she was studying painting and printmaking, but soon began to shift her interest to public art projects that were “sublime and impressive” (designboom). Her first Truisms were created in 1976 when she moved to New York City and posted them anonymously around the city. Since that time, Holzer’s Truisms have expanded their medium beyond just posters, including works on LED monitors that are posted in relation to monuments and memorials and since 1996 Holzer’s work has included large-scale, text projections on buildings and landscapes in a huge range of locations such as Rome, Oslo, Paris, Berlin, Miami and others (designboom).If the first thing that drew me to Holzer’s work is that she was working with text, the second thing that interested me was how different her work is from my own. In my own work I use text to expel these hidden workings and meanings behind everyday things and thereby add to my own evolving part-language, part-drawing and myths. However, I feel like Holzer’s work is working in a completely opposite field, while still being based in text. Her work portrays these somewhat familiar phrases that “displace the clear presence of a personal voice.” Holzer’s Truisms, “…Underscore the essential emptiness of the media and the strange isolation of people from one another in the society of mass culture clichés” (Fineberg 461). I really feel as if Holzer’s Truisms, whether they are posters or projections, are highly connected to the world around us and are working to change how we think about our surroundings while my own work is moving in the direction of reinterpreting everything under the sun.
With these thoughts about the media and public interaction in mind, Holzer’s piece Protect Me From What I Want becomes much more powerful. The fact that this piece is displayed on an electronic billboard (among many other formats) contacts the public directly in the environment. The work does not require a gallery to help stage it’s meaning; the public is necessary for the work to implant its meaning into the viewer and since the work is in this form, it directly plays into and critiques the world of advertising and consumer society (designboom).
The main thing that I think is working so well in Holzer’s Truisms and projections is the fact that there is no real “set up” for the works. When I say this I mean that the works confront the viewer though their shear size or guerrilla-like marketing and they look like they belong in the environment – an environment full of constantly changing advertisements. The works, through their almost familiar phrasing, triggers some kind of thought or emotional response from the viewer. I think that when the viewer knows that something is going on, but can’t quite put their finger on it, or realize that the work is referring to their own lives, the work is highly successful.
Jenny Holzer, Truism Series
"Jenny Holzer." designboom. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/holzer.html.
Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.