Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Jenny Holzer at Whitney
Words / Image
Some say language is Jenny Holzer's prime medium. Maybe I am not as sensitive to words; I actually found the image more prevailing. No matter what they say, the LED signs in different configurations create a dazzling scene inside Whitney. Colorful letters are blinking, zooming, scrolling, hitting the wall and disappear. In the immersive sea of direct and reflected light, words become the image. As Marshall McLuhan said, "the medium is the message."
But I did spend some time reading. It's interesting to see Holzer's narratives changing from her earlier poetic literature to the recent non-fictional subject matter. There's a series of paintings reproduced from war-related declassified documents such as testimonies, autopsy, interrogation reports, confessions, handprints, etc. Heavy redactions black out sensitive contents. Again, verbal reality becomes implicit but strong visual apparatus.
Time / Pace
Back to the scrolling LEDs. I think the most interesting aspect is the movement of the texts, especially when the signs are parallel. Most of the time they are synced to move in the same direction at the same pace. But it gets more appealing when they don't. Sometimes they start in succession, sometimes they move in the opposite directions, and sometimes texts of different font sizes slip past in double layers. The most interesting case I saw there though, was in "Red Yellow Looming" where texts scroll in a parallel configuration resembling a stairway. They are of different font sizes and moving in different speeds - the larger text moves faster than the smaller one in order to catch up. As a result, the pace of information feed remains the same.
Space / Depth
The configuration certainly defines space. And the use of double-sided LED signs creates a force field of reflected color light way beyond the actual shape. After staring at it for a while, you will feel the light flattening your view and dematerializing it into pure luminosity. When the letters hit the wall, the changing light on the wall gives you a sense of infinity. The only exception from parallelity is "Green Purple Cross" and "Blue Cross" which jointly claim the corner with 12 angled LED signs. When the texts moving from both sides collide, space starts to strangle...
Although the artist claims to have careful considerations about the shape, I found no apparent connection between the configuration and the content. Maybe that's OK. We've known this lack of signification long enough. We call it flexibility, or universality.