Jenny Holzer's "Marquees" - Chase Public Response Project
Jenny Holzer’s Truisms is a massively influential and moving body of work that is still discussed some forty years after it began. In the late 1970’s, Holzer once posted her aphorisms on marquees, walls, and buildings around New York City with phrases including, “Life is not a Rehearsal,” or “Laugh Hard at the Absurdly Evil”. These marquees, Holzer’s Truisms Project in New York, were recently the topic of discussion at Chase Public for their monthly Response Project. The program invited six artists to respond to Jenny Holzer’s Truisms which was an interesting choice, as Holzer’s work was designed to sound as though it was coming from a single authoritative voice. The project succeeded in changing this aspect of the work by adding additional voices, and the results were a fantastic display of poetry, song, and performance.
The first artist to respond was local artist and performer Pam Kravetz, delivering a fantastic performance of watching Holzer’s words as though the marquees were advertising actual films, even passing around popcorn to the people in the audience. Her performance toyed with the idea that no matter how many times she saw Jenny’s sayings, she had a hard time being able to understand them. As the words “Life is Not a Rehearsal” spanned the screen countless times, Kravetz reminded the audience of her “fear of large text,” and how she wished there was more to them, a feeling that Holzer evokes from many that read her concise and impactful words.
The next artist was Will Ayres, a composer and teacher in Cincinnati. He began his response by discussing the difference between melody and theme. According to the musician, melody was not problematic, as it was simply meant to make the music sound beautiful. The more problematic of the two is theme, as it is what adds meaning to the music. To demonstrate his point, Ayres played Holzer’s Truisms as though they were songs, changing their meaning ever so slightly. Ayres’ concept was to mix the blunt logic of Holzer’s sayings with the melodies of music, creating a fantastic juxtaposition as he sang her words.
Following this was Aalap Bommaraju, an artist interested in exploring positions of sexuality and race. To do this, he played a video that showed a computer screen, mixing his words with Holzer’s, placing her work onto a monitor rather than a marquee. Bommaraju placed Holzer’s work into a new context ---both in medium and in the meaning he was giving her words by discussing sexuality and identity.
The next artist presented a sound art work that discussed the feminist nuances that can be found in Holzer’s work. Frances Newberry created a pre-recorded sound artwork that spoke the words “I didn’t notice I was a woman until I was objectified” over and over until it became almost a chant. While that phrase was clear at the beginning of the piece, her voice got faster and faster until it blurred and was unrecognizable even as human. Her words were lost and were no longer her own. Overtop of the dull drone of the repeating words the voices of other women sharing memories could be heard. They discussed their voices being taken from them, with one woman saying, “Even when I told him I didn’t want kids he said ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind’”. The repetitiveness of the voice was piercing, holding the attention of the entire room. It was a beautiful juxtaposition; and though her words were unrecognizable as the piece ended the listener was forced to listen to the woman’s plight.
The next artist, Madison Leigh, took a slightly different approach to her response, responding mainly to the words, “Turn soft and lovely anytime you have the chance.” The artist was an art student and practitioner of Wicca. Leigh responded to these words by giving Chase Public its very own spell jar, saying Wiccan spells could be versatile, being used for whatever the creator wanted them to. In this case, into the spell jar went the popcorn from Kravetz’s performance, along with some PBR people had been drinking throughout the night. It was a beautiful encapsulation of the community values Chase Public encourages in their projects by bringing local Cincinnati residents together to experience and appreciate art in a way they might not be able to on their own. When the spell was complete, Leigh explained the jar was designed to help Chase achieve prosperity in their future community endeavors and gave them the jar to keep.
The final responder of the night was local poet and artist Avril Thurman, who created her own Truisms and turned them into a poem. At the beginning of her piece, Thurman stated that she felt uncomfortable telling other what to do, as Holzer does so explicitly in her works. Thus, Thurman’s aphorisms differed from Holzer’s by being much softer, with words such as “take the day off, let them think you are dying,” and, “hearts aren’t shaped like that”. In all, the melancholic yet light message given by Thurman was the ideal end to a night of responses.
This Chase Public Response Project brought together six brilliant artists who responded to Holzer’s work in such varied and unexpected ways, yet all of them brought interesting insight on the reactions people may have to the work of Jenny Holzer. This project takes place once a month, and always has different artists and themes that brings a new light to a topic that the audience might not have thought of before. For an idea so simple, to give artists an idea or body of work to respond to, the Response Project is an interesting and worthwhile event to enjoy and think about a concept in a way one might not have before.
Written by Annabel Biernat