An Homage to Christopher's Homage to Jenny Holzer
by Jen Graves
on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 9:37 AM
On Wednesday night at SAM, superstartist Jenny Holzer did say many things, as Christopher reported. I would like to add these:
"But most things survive, which means they don't work." —On being disappointed "on some level" when her art is allowed in major venues like banks and football stadiums, because they're coopted, 'it's sort of business as usual." She described with nostalgia an exhibition of her photostats removed from Marine Midland Bank early in her career because it contained text about it not being good to live on credit. Superstartistdom=weird.
"I wouldn't separate the two. It matters." —In response to curator Catharina Manchanda's comment "It sounds like you were more interested in the political than in the feminist side of Nancy Spero's work."
The talk was sold out. The room became hot and stifling with the bated breath of so many fans. I wanted to ask, Has 30 years of speaking in the anonymous voice changed your personality? I was hoping to hear about gender, anonymity, authority. Holzer reminded me of the opening of Doris Lessing's novel The Summer Before the Dark, about a wife and mother whose children are about to leave home who's forgotten her reason for being. It's about maxims, the sort of boiled-down phrases Holzer uses in her works:
...towards the crucial experiences custom allots certain attitudes, and they are pretty stereotyped. Ah yes, first love! ... Growing up is bound to be painful! ... My first child, you know... But I was in love! ... Marriage is a compromise.... I am not as young as I once was. Of course, the choice of one rather than another of these time-honoured phrases has seldom to do with a personal feeling, but more likely your social setting, or the people you are with on occasion. You have to deduce a person's real feelings about a thing by a smile she does not know is on her face, by the way the bitterness tightens muscles at a mouth's corner, or the way air is allowed to flow from the lungs after: I wouldn't like to be a child again! Such power do these phrases have, all issued for use as it might be by a particularly efficient advertising campaign, that it is probable many people go on repeating Youth is the best time of your life or Love is a woman's whole existence until they actually catch sight of themselves in a mirror while they are saying something of the kind, or are quick enough to catch the reaction on a friend's face.