Friday, April 17, 2009

Jenny Holzer At The Whitney Museum: Protest Art For A Technological Age

The art of protest has a long legacy, bringing to mind Picasso's "Guernica," which depicts the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by German bombers during the Spanish Civil War; Goya's "The Shootings of May 3, 1808," commemorating the execution of Spanish citizens by Napoleon's occupation army; and Ben Shahn's "The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti," portraying the funeral of Italian-born American anarchists following their execution based on a controversial murder trial.

Jenny Holzer has brought the art of protest into a more technological age. "Protect Protect," Holzer's exhibit of work since the 1990s, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, uses electronic signs and other nontraditional media to explore personal desire and public policy. The latter predominated in this exhibit, particularly the policy of war pursued in Iraq and the ways such policy was communicated to the public. Holzer's L.E.D. electronic signs are programmed with declassified documents on the war and related matters, such as the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In a video that shows some of her electronic pieces, Holzer speaks about the relationship between her words and art:

In the "redaction" paintings, Holzer took declassified materials, collected by the National Security Archive and the American Civil Liberties Union, on autopsies and interrogations of detainees, hand prints of military personnel under indictment and military maps showing war plans. Each of the materials were redacted, or blacked out, in whole or in part. They call into question what we know, or are permitted to know by a government waging war. Here's a redaction of a hand print:

Holzer's "Lustmord," which means rape-slaying, sex-murder or lust-killing in German, consists of human bones on a wooden table. The display is based on the rape and murder of women and girls as a strategy of Bosnian-Serb forces during the war in the former Yugoslavia. Silver bands around some of the bones refer to these horrific events:

Unsettling, stimulating and pioneering, Jenny Holzer's "Protect Protect" is on view at the Whitney Museum through May 31, 2009.

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