Culture Editor, Leanne McCarthy, reviews Jenny Holzer’s exhibition in the Tate Modern.
Until the 7th of July, the Tate Modern (London) is displaying a free ‘Artist Room’ exhibition of Jenny Holzer’s work. Jenny Holzer is a New-York based neo-conceptual artist, whose main focus lies in the way ideas and messages are delivered to all of us in our everyday lives.
The Tate Modern exhibition of Holzer’s work comprises of five rooms, each displaying work from different time frames, exploring different subject areas, and using different mediums to achieve this.
I will focus on the first two rooms of the exhibition, as I encourage anyone who can to go and see the rest of it for themselves!
From wall to wall, this room is plastered with repeated lists of sayings and statements. These statements have been purposefully picked to evoke certain thoughts and feelings, many of them contradicting one another. You might find a statement which reads ‘Raise boys and girls the same way’, or equally ‘The desire to reproduce is a death wish’. The sheer number of statements on display in this room is emphasised by its size – the lists span from the floor to the very raised ceiling. The number of messages seems endless, you could easily spend ten minutes or more trying to read them all. This room is overwhelming in that it makes you think about how many pieces of information you take in every single day. How many of those statements contradict each other? How many of those statements do you accept, without even questioning?
There is also a glass display cabinet in this room which shows some of the commonplace objects that Holzer has used to print messages on. Ranging from condoms brandished with the message ‘Men don’t protect you anymore’, to silver bracelets declaring ‘I am awake’, Holzer takes her art out of the gallery set up by using objects that we could come across anywhere at any time. The use of everyday objects again emphasises that we should not just question the messages we see when we are told to in an art exhibition – we should do this all the time.
This space is flooded with a neon glow, emitted from a news-like electronic sign which hangs from the ceiling and reels off an endless stream of words. Dotted around the room are numerous objects engraved or printed with yet more messages. The centre of the room is framed by four granite benches which curve round to create a circle. These benches are engraved with extracts from the poetry of acclaimed Polish writer, Anna Świrszczyńska, who wrote about her experiences of the Second World War. I almost missed these engravings when I was first looking around the room, as the changing light from the electric sign can sometimes make them hard to read.
I liked how the space was laid out. I found that the benches encouraged people to look closer and become more involved with what was on display, which differed to the way people normally engage at art galleries. Normally, people tend to stick to the edges of a room to look at paintings and move around the space in an orderly way, but here people were moving through the exhibition freely and taking in the work from a much broader range of perspectives.
I’d encourage everyone to go and see this exhibition if they are in London. Holzer very successfully makes you think more about the information we are all presented with on a daily basis; making a point of displaying controversial messages to encourage you to stop and realise you shouldn’t just take what you read, see, or hear as a given – something increasingly important as the prevalence of internet news and social media becomes greater.