Jenny Holzer (Baltic)

Once again I rocked up knowing little of what to expect.  I had done no research to ground me with even the basics ‘Jenny Holzer; conceptual artist, renowned for use of LED’s and subversive text’. 

Holzer began her career as an artist in the 70’s. To think about the changes which have occurred between then and now is kind of overwhelming.  In our current hyper text age Holzer’s dystopian vision has become reality. We are already bombarded  with information, messages and lights.  The boundary between art and life blurs in and out of focus and I can’t help but think this must take away some of the original power of the work. How quickly Holzer seems retro and this forces the question ‘Where the hell will we be in the next forty years?’ 

The Baltic’s exhibition takes place over two floors of sparse, minimal exhibits.  Layers of golden flowing light, blink in and out of focus.  I stand spelling out words and piecing together disconcerting and incongruous phrases.   The act of creating meaning from the flashes overwhelms and my brain struggles to keep up with the scrolling text, which alternates its speed and blinks and dances.  The galleries are bathed in neon colours, warm oranges, purples and reds.    In the jet plane hanger of the Batlic I feel dizzy. 

As a ‘writer’ I’m interested in the concept of ‘text art’ and here meaning and medium combine and compete, but I’m not always sure the gallery is the best place for this interaction. Does Holzer lose something in this anesthetised art space?, I imagine seeing her work on a billboard, in the street, but here the element of surprise confrontation is kinda absent.

Phrases such as ‘Torture is Barbaric. Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise. Lack of Charisma May be Fatal’ roll past on huge panels, making me think and laugh. I try to construct Holzer’s personal view. I’m not sure there is one, I’m not sure that’s the point.  The writer is absent, there is only the viewer. The author really is dead? You are bombarded with messages and commands.  But unlike how this so often plays out in the ‘real world’ here you recognise you are being bombarded.

Like a struggling student learning to read I spell out words as they emerge and try to make sense of it all.  The voices are multiple, and I often find myself agreeing with the statements, then wondering if I’m meant to. 

The architecture of the Baltic means you can walk to the top of the gallery and look on from above as the text keeps moving in its constant dance. Its lovely to see the exhibition from this vantage point.  

War and Lustmord (rape murder) sequences consist of human bones, pinned to the desk in eerie straight lines with engraved silver bands.  I didn’t realise their origins until reading the catalogue on the train home, not sure if this is my fault or an interpretation failing.  Surrounded by neon electronics their relation to our physicality is incongruous, they are like some old school archaeology exhibit which gets to the core of us, our physical realities, our very bones.  Holzer shows us both rhetoric and ideas and terrifying real world outcomes. 

The second gallery centres around declassified documents released by the US Government on the war in Iraq. In the absences blacked out by the censor we make our own narrative. Our imagination fills in the gaps, we question what is hidden and why.  One panel contains nothing but reems of black (you can get close and see Holzer’s brush strokes) and then the ominous word  ‘Waterboard’. Another displays blacked out handprints, with crossings and silences scrawled onto them. The timing of the exhibition is perfect, however I think it is unfortunately likely to be so for quite some time.  





About Rachel

zinester/diy-til-i-die/love hate relationship with arts admin/girlpunkfeminist/geek
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