Size does matter. This certainly goes for Jenny Holzer’s powerful statements, which have been large scale projected on architectural masterpieces all over the world. When I heard that the work of this American conceptual artist is on view at Sprüth Magers Gallery, my curiosity was triggered. How would she work her way around the limitations the space available in Sprüth Magers will put on her work? And taken out of their natural environment of the restless street, unable to interact with the unsuspecting passer-by, will the impact of her so called ‘truisms’ remain intact?
There is obviously a difference between an out-of-proportion, in your face I need to lie back to front with someone who adores me enveloping Berlin’s Matthäikirche and a nicely proportioned gallery wall with 4 rows of 6 statements, each of them patiently awaiting their turn to be caught by my eyes. Growing up in our visual oriented culture, the amount of words blinded me and I almost felt like skipping this wall altogether. It was the interruption of the overwhelming silence by a loud laugh of recognition from a visitor that encouraged me to start reading after all.
Being at Holzer’s exhibition is like standing in front of a mirror that reflects the deepest secrets and fears hidden deep down in your soul. What else can you do if you read You are caught thinking about killing anyone you want than letting your thoughts run over the people you would like to vanish from earth to never return again; and subsequently blushing with shame, because you realise that you actually are caught thinking about killing anyone you want.
But there is more than just words. The rhythmic alternation of different media enhances the written content. LED signs serve as a hypnotising visual spectacle of letters swimming through the endless darkness, shaping words, phrases, then making room for the next phrase; whereas discreet bronze plaques, strategically placed next to the fire alarm, add an element of surprise. Where you expect to find a fire instruction, it actually says, Bodies lie in the bright grass And some are murdered And some are picnicking. A vibrant graffiti painting of bodies in despair being trapped in the underground by NYC graffiti artist Lady Pink, serving as a canvas for the at first sight cryptic I am not free, because I can be exploded anytime, suddenly makes this statement relevant for every Londoner in town during the hectic events of the Olympic games. Filled with horror, my superstitious mind makes me believe that this is a sign from a higher power and that my days are numbered.
After strolling through the exhibition, I felt like resting my legs while absorbing the opening piece of the exhibition one last time. I stopped dead, because even from the shiny surface of the benches I was being confronted by a striking statement about the number of times I acted against my nature. It’s not the size of the words that matters in this exhibition, but the undeniable truth they express and the response they evoke from those of us who accept the challenge by taking them in.
Sophisticated Devices is on view till August 18
7A Grafton Street London,
London W1S 4EJ
Words by Juliette Sijnja
TagsJenny Holzer, Juliette Sijnja, Sophisticated Devices, Sprüth Magers,