The complex military and political history of the 18th century Blenheim Palace – originally created as a reward to the first Duke of Marlborough for his military triumphs, and later the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill – both inspires and complements Jenny Holzer’s new works considering the aftermath of war.
SOFTER has been conceived in collaboration with Blenheim Art Foundation and features more than 50 works, many created specifically for Blenheim. Alongside the installations within the Palace, a series of large-scale light projections, ON WAR, illuminate the grand English Baroque exterior and transform the grounds after dark, until 10 October. For these evening events, text is projected onto the Great Courtyard and Queen Elizabeth Island, bringing to light the experiences of witnesses to war. The projections draw on first-hand accounts of recent conflicts, contributed by veterans and active military personnel, via The Not Forgotten Association; testimonies of people affected by the Syrian civil war, taken from interviews conducted by Save the Children and Human Rights Watch; as well as poems by Polish writer Anna Świrszczyńska and contemporary refugee writers. Accompanying this, Holzer explores the potential of digitally-rendered space within a historic environment, through a virtual reality application, OF WAR, again using text contributed by The Not Forgotten Association. The bespoke app provides an interactive engagement with the setting, allowing visitors to experience Holzer’s work through their mobile and tablet devices.
In the Great Hall, a dynamic LED work, STATEMENT, is suspended from the ceiling, while in the Long Library, a site-specific sound installation, SERVICE, features spoken testimony from UK war veterans and serving personnel. Throughout the building, Holzer’s paintings based upon US government documents pertaining to recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are juxtaposed with the Palace’s interior furnishings. Further work is placed throughout the courtyard and interior halls, including a new series of limestone and marble benches engraved with poetry by Świrszczyńska responding to the Palace’s architecture.
Holzer is the fourth contemporary artist to exhibit at Blenheim Palace, following Ai Weiwei, Lawrence Weiner and Michelangelo Pistoletto. The exhibition continues Blenheim Art Foundation’s commitment to exposing new audiences to contemporary art. Michael Frahm, Director of Blenheim Art Foundation, said: “This exhibition shows how art can extend beyond traditional mediums and give a voice to those who are often forgotten. Drawing on the Palace’s military history to create new pieces that speak to themes of modern day conflict, we hope this exhibition challenges audiences and creates a dialogue between past and present.”
Softer: Jenny Holzer at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, until 31 December. www.blenheimpalace.com.
1. BLUE PURPLE TILT, Jenny Holzer, 2007.