A major new exhibition of work by Jenny Holzer opens today in Gateshead at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The exhibition, in one word, is stunning. The walk up to the BALTIC reveals the first insight into what is to come inside; the façade of the building emblazoned with “THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR WILL BE SECRET”.
Holzer’s use of text as art rises to a new political level as she takes classified documents from the US Government, made public under the Freedom of Information Act, and creates impressive LED sculptures displaying this information repeatedly in bright, flashing, almost blinding fashion. The documents in question range from emails between US Military officials, emails discussing the interest in oil as the cause of the conflict, and documents regarding prisoner-questioning methods. The sculptures themselves are breathtaking, filling the dimly lit white space with bright pink, green and amber, disappearing in to the walls in their various forms to give a sense of their endless nature. Whilst demanding your attention, it is clear that they are complex and often difficult to stand and read. While I think one of the major points to the work is to reveal once confidential material, just the fact that it is playing on a loop, always being released, unclassified and made public. A statement is always being made and cannot be stopped.
Also included is The Redaction Paintings Series, first exhibited in 2006. The series, taken from original official documents, depicts handprints belonging to US soldiers accused of crimes in Iraq. They have been defaced with heavy marks to erase the prints that differentiate them. By refusing to separate the convicted from the wrongly accused, Holzer demonstrates the failure of war to differentiate.
One of the earliest works of the exhibition, Lustmord Table (1994) is perhaps the most quietly unassuming, yet most disturbing of the show. Trigged by the conflict in former Yugoslavia, human bones laid out neatly on tables are collared with silver rings engraved with text. They illustrate directly the connection between physical and psychological consequences of conflict, war and trauma.
By moving to the upper floor, the exhibition takes a more personal turn into Holzer’s mind, with my personal favourite, Monument, a 20-foot-high LED sculpture, comprising of 22 semi-circular bands emblazoned with the artist’s Truisms and Inflammatory Essays, throwing out ironic sayings that always seem to relate to your own personal experiences. One of the highlights is a huge, floor-based sculpture, ideal for viewing from the top floor viewing platform – definitely recommended if you visit this show.
Holzer’s take on peace, conflict, love and longing and survival are perfectly captured throughout this exhibition, providing the viewer with the best of both worlds – incredibly stunning visuals, coupled with unsettlingly global and personal ideas.
Jenny Holzer is showing at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art from today (Friday 5 March) until Sunday 16 May. For more information, please see www.balticmill.com
22 double-sided, semi-circular electronic LED signs: 13 with red
and white diodes; 9 with red and blue diodes on front and blue and
white diodes on back
194.3 x 57.8 x 28.9 in.; 493.5 x 146.8 x 73.4 cm.
Installation: LIKE TRUTH, Diehl + Gallery One, Moscow, 2008
Text: Truisms, 1977–79; Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
© [date of publication] Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society
Photo: Vassilij Gureev