influence and inspiration……..
“It’s women who’ve been doing the most challenging art in the last decade. Psychologically seen, their work is much more extreme than men’s”
Employing the medium of the word, Jenny Holzer gives expression to messages, statements, theses and antitheses on the subject of taboos, sex, violence, love, war and death. While she was a student, she was oriented towards abstract painting, but her aim was none the less to convey content and present her themes to the public eye. Initially, therefore, she wrote explicit texts on abstract pictures. In 1977, she moved to New York and has since concentrated on the medium of language. In the same year she began her first series called Truisms, printing one-liners in capitals on t-shirts and posters that she fly-posted throughout the city. Almost unnoticed, she attached her messages to telephone boxes, parking meters and house walls. The 40 to 60 sentences contained in each work were arranged alphabetically. They read like truisms or gawky statements about social conditions, politics, everyday life, violence and sexuality, and brought the reader up short, prompting him to reflect. The Anglo-American tradition of Speakers Corner, the specifically American narrative tradition, and superficial Reader’s digest-style opinion-forming were as much Holze’s model as the conceptual art of Lawrence Weiner or Joseph Kossuth. But first of all she did not feel she was an artist, seeing her creativity instead as part of agitprop tradition.
The way in which Holzer views her work and did not, for a long time at least, class herself as artist, rings true with my own approach my my creativity as something which was initially a personal development tool and second a means of communicating societal short-comings or faults to the greater populous. Agitation or provocation of thought were, are my main motivation.
Between 1979 and 1982, Holzer created her own series of posters. However unlike Truisms, the texts of Inflammatory Essays were no longer a series of successive statements, but pamphlets or aphorisms _ short structured texts consisting of just a few sentences inspired by the writings of Hitler, Lenin, Mao and Trotsky as well as other political figures and philosophers.
In 1980, Holzer began a series of text panels made of bronze whose inscriptions were executed in large lettering. She put up the panels beside the brass plates of doctor’s surgeries or even gallery signs. This Living Series, up to 1982, was not much of a pursuit of ‘great political ideas’ but scattered everyday first person messages an instructions or advice aimed at an unspecified ‘you’. Thanks to the inconspicuousness of her medium, noticed casually en passant, combined with the violence of the worlds, Holzer momentarily caught the attention of the passers-by with her message. She was exploiting advertising methods in the urban environment both to counter sanitised phraseology and ut across her own message. At first, she made no use of artistic settings for this. Her real breakthrough came in 1982, when she presented her sentences to the public in the form of constantly changing messages on an LED display in New York’s Times Square. Borrowing from Truisms, one statement followed another, the best-remembered being “Protect me from what I want”
Her work is particularly pertinent when I consider my own as I find this kind of social engagement fascinating and much more intriguing than the more direct approach of attaining a community of interest based on specificity. I feel that people, despite their busy lives and rushed movements, notice things on the street and would respond to finding similar in the form of workshop for example. The kind of work I am engaged in now is similar in approach although I intend to run a workshop to begin the dialogue. The messages and communication that is sent out by advertising the workshop will speak to certain people and will be ignored by others, the poster is an extremely valuable way to initiate contact and speak to wide potential community.
Tag lines and phrases will prompt motivations and aspirations so that the viewer can decide to join or not on the basis of what is presented.
Posters should be posted in unusual locations to emphasize a break with the everyday.
“Making art is about objectifying your experience of the world, transforming the flow of moments into something visual, or textual of musical. Art creates a kind of commentary”.
Why are we shown one picture and not another? runs one of the slogans that have made the American artist Barbara Kruger known since the early 1980’s. The provocative question addressed directly to the viewer indicates the subject area that Kruger treats in her text + image combinations. She looks at the way violence, power and sexuality are produced and rendered visible by mass media images in our society. Kruger’s position assumes a priori that our view of reality, ideas and normality, stable gender roles, and acceptance of everyday violence are constantly recreated and influenced by images and language. Her grainy black-and-white photos reproduce models which are in turn reproductions and mass distributed. They chiefly involve 1940s and 1950s photo albums, prospectuses and user instructions which spread conservative social clichés and stereotypes in an especially succinct fashion. We find the established tole models revived particularly in the Regan era, for example, there was not just a repressive discussion of AIDS but the achievements of the women’s movement, especially women’s right of disposal over her own body and their reproductive functions, were once more scrutinised. Kruger investigates the voices behind the pictures. Her appeals against the massive anti-abortion campaign of these years are an example of her role as activist, which takes the form of conspicuous slogans and critical questioning of the way females are depicted in images, such as the declaration Your body’s a Battleground, 1989.
That Kruger’s striking worlds in the public and institutional spaces, her billboards, wall installations, pictorial objects and even shopping bags borrow aesthetic strategies from advertising and can be explained by her profession development. She grew up in Newmark and, in 1964, began to study art at Syracuse University. From 1965, she attended courses at the Parsons School of Design, where her work was particularly influenced by the photographer Diane Arbus and the graphic designer and artist Marvin Israel, a former art director of Harpers Bazaar. Her studies completed she worked at an agency, then for the fashion periodical Mademoiselle. Kruger has been an active artist since 1969. When she moved into her loft in New York in 1970, he came into contact with the feminist group at local exhibitions. She was particularly impressed by the large textile wall piece by Magdalena Abbakanovicz, who incorporates explicitly “female” production methods in her artistic practice.
Kruger also began to write poetic texts, presenting them at poetry readings at, for example, the New York Artists Space, here she had her first solo show in 1974.
“I shop therefore I am”.
“When I hear the word culture I get out my cheque book”.
Kruger also writes for Artforum.
The most obvious bridge between art and design is language. Word + Image combinations are accepted as both, art and design, as both artists and designers have employed this method. Therefore can we explore another method? I am very fond of maintaining a purely graphic form of communication but placing this within the context of fine art or the newly developed area of socially engaged art. Having developed graphic notation for example, is a purely graphic approach but placing this element of my practice into a workshop methodology creates a newer, more current dialogue?
– Not sure…everything has been done.
I do feel though that the text image stuff was at its best in the late 70’s and 80’s…..not that I think we have gotten over the cultural shock that was the period between 1930 and 1950 and that mass media material created during this era which spawned the language and interactions of the 21st century is obsolete but it has been done to death…..now is an age in which sloganist approaches are widely seen as stating the obvious as well as being a methodology which is lacking in pro activity. It is no longer ok to just pass comment.
People are crying out to be engaged….or are they just following the trend?…feeding the machine that is the art/design world? How do we find an authentic experience and can we trust our instincts when we think we are experienceing one?
Ultimately experiences must be made real again, to create something with ones hands in the real world in real time as a group. Personally I feel such experiences ground us and make us more stable and perhas even better humans.
So the aim is to create such situations…leading with a graphic approach but focusing on collective creating.