Textual Analysis: Jenny Holzer at Montreal’s DHC/ART

Jenny Holzer works in words. Her art flows from the endless river of language that surrounds us. She dips her hands into that river and pulls out a tiny handful for us to look into and reflect. For most of her career, she’s distilled these little draughts into “truisms” such as “Don't place too much trust in experts.” In a new exhibtion at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Holzer takes on the “experts” who have orchestrated the United States-led invasion of Iraq and all that has followed to today. Turning their own words around, Holzer holds up language as a mirror to show them and us the consequences of how words are used and misused. This analysis may be too late in some ways, but also just in time to show how language, too, can become a weapon of mass destruction.


Holzer takes tidbits from transcripts of policy debates, testimonies of American soldiers, and statements from detainees once held in custody by the United States, as well as from actual government documents released in whole or rendered in part through the redaction or removal of “sensitive” material. These Redaction paintings confront the public with the very words that their government feels they’re unable to handle. In works such as 2007’s Phase III Complete Regime Destruction purple (shown), Holzer resituates the Iraq debate documentation in color and on linen to raise it to an iconic level. They become holy relics of the martyrdom of generation. Whether you agree with the sacrifice itself is immaterial in light of how Holzer holds up the material itself for closer inspection.

Holzer links words and bodies in two Lustmord Tables, upon which human bones rest alongside engravings recounting rape and murder from the perspectives of female victims, witnesses, and even the rapists themselves. The inevitable toll of men at war upon women caught in the crossfire strikes the viewer powerfully in these installations. The stories of victimization often silenced or erased by the larger narrative of battle find life in Holzer’s imaginative inscribing on our consciousness.

The DHC/ART gives viewers a chance to analyze text a la Holzer through an educational program involving postcards. Participants will create artwork on a postcard that expresses a single word or idea related to some personal reflection on society. During the closing reception for the Holzer exhibition, participants will symbolically “mail” their postcards as a group, which the museum will capture on video. This happening thus unites people through words. Considering how these war-related texts fostered disunion among peoples, that mass “mailing” seems the perfect tribute to Holzer’s intended goal.

 “Freedom is a luxury not a necessity,” goes another of Holzer’s truisms. Viewing this exhibition at the DHC/ART is an exercise in participatory democracy, perhaps an exercise in futility given that it happens after the tragic facts of the case, but also perhaps a warm-up exercise for future opportunities to analyze the texts our government hands us to accept silently or question critically.

[Image: Jenny Holzer. Phase III Complete Regime Destruction purple, 2007. Oil on linen. 79 x 102.25 in.; 200.7 x 259.7 cm. Text: U.S government document. © 2007 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.]

[Many thanks to the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for providing me with the image above and press materials for Jenny Holzer, which runs through November 14, 2010.]

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less