New York

Jenny Holzer

Dia Center for the Arts

At one point, quite unexpectedly, all the LED signs of Jenny Holzer’s installation go dark and the silence becomes palpable, as the darkness grows thick around the viewer. The signs are vertical and the lettering flows upward and explodes like electronic fireworks until the sudden shutdown. This is a work about death and dead time, time made dead by the pause that inevitably occurs in media signals. Holzer no longer works in the mode of comment and critique of the media: she has thoroughly absorbed her chosen media’s forms, its structure, its messages, its spatial deployment. She has managed to digest mediated desire and to spit out the gob of human emotion that sticks at the back of her throat. The frustrating obliqueness of her earlier pieces is completely absent here. Her current language has an edge that was missing from the teasing, spacey messages of her Times Square project. Holzer has found her voice, and it is one which speaks to us of desire, fear, and emptiness. She is writing our epitaph, while creating a crypt for the future.

There are no corpses in the sarcophagi lining the adjoining room here, there is no stink of death. The bodies have evaporated, vanished into thin air.What is left are words, inscribed in marble in antique style. They are the same words that flash through the liquid red light of the LED signs: words engraved in marble, words engraved in light.

Holzer is listening to the voices inside our heads. She is thinking in the void left by the media, working in the silence and the darkness between broadcasts. She has managed to represent her fear with hallucinatory lucidity: “I keep my brain on so I do not fall into nothing if his claws hurt me.” It is a woman’s voice speaking, threatened by its ability to reproduce and represent itself at the same time, threatened by its own monstrosity while celebrating it: “I have a hot hole that was put in me. I can live with it. People made it and use it to get to me. I can hurt it too but usually I put my thinking there for excitement.”

Holzer is one of several women artists who deals with the convergence of language and sexuality in a disembodied way. She reconstructs a new sensorium around an internal apparatus of vision: “I move in an envelope of all smells.” And this sensibility is, at times, unbearable: “I want to get to the future please” is a painful plea addressed to no one. Holzer’s electronic messages read differently from her engraved ones. The former are interactive with their media, in that they are in a struggle with it; the latter seem frighteningly static and permanent. Yet Holzer affirms the possibility of communicating the intensity of interior experience and her own passionate relationship with death and pain. She conveys the difficulty of trying to live inside of one’s skin in a culture that has tried to annihilate interiority.

Catherine Liu