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The woman who revolutionised writing text into visual art: Jenny Holzer

July 29, On This Day


The delivery of words and ideas in public spaces — this forms the basis of the visual works of American neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, who was born on July 29, 1950, and lives in Hoosick, New York. She turns 72 this year.

It is said that Holzer belongs to the feminist branch of a generation of artists that emerged around 1980, “looking for new ways to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects”.

The public dimension is integral to Holzer’s art and her large-scale installations include ad billboards, projections on buildings and other architectural structures, besides electronic displays illuminated by LED signs. Her practice is diverse, however, and incorporates an array of media like street posters, painted signs, stone benches, paintings, photographs, sound, video, projections, the Internet, T-shirts, and even a BMW race car.

Wikipedia writes about her: “The medium of modern computer systems became an important component in Holzer’s work in 1982, when the artist installed her first large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board in New York’s Times Square. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund program, the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) allowed Holzer to reach a larger audience. The texts in her subsequent ‘Survival’ series, compiled in 1983-85, speak to the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society.”

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Her art keeps on reinventing itself. Take for instance ‘Inflammatory Essays’, a work consisting of posters Holzer created from 1979 to 1982 and put up throughout New York. The statements on the posters were influenced by political figures, such as Emma Goldman, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Tse-tung.

In 1989, Holzer became the second female artist chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in Italy. After taking a break from the art world, Holzer returned with controversy in 1993 —her ‘Lustmord’ series, which quite literally means ‘Sex Murder’ in German. Lustmord was created as a response of the Bosnian War, and the works of Lustmord were made between 1993 and 1994 to bring attention to the methodical rape and murder of women in the violence.

As is evident, Holzer’s work often speaks of violence, oppression, sexuality, feminism, power, war and death; and the artist often utilizes the rhetoric of modern information systems to address the politics of discourse.