chad scovil13 on Wed, 22 Apr 2009 23:57:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Jenny Holzer 'Protect Protect'

'Protect Protect'
Jenny Holzer
WhitneyMuseum, New YorkNew York
Through May 31 2009

Linearity constructed as a representational praxis in the realm of
datavisualization as a contemporary means of presenting information
is a conservativeact. Our inundated visual culture symbolically
represents its vectors of meaning and content through personalized
media bands, where users and players intermingle and create the
algorithm in real-time, further personalizing andsharing visual

Search queries and semantic webs construct infinitely
complex folksonomys of intricately sophisticated subjectivities; a
breakpoint of tactility between the previous two decades is perceptible
as the difference between Usenet and Youtube. An intergenerational
and vastly disparate structure of representation engenders vertigo of
differentiality; the pre-internet, theinternet, and the post-internet
age groups interpolate profoundly different architectures of cultural
instigation. This emergence / dithering between vastly different
engagement philosophies of visual studies are an important measurement
tool. With it, we detectably sync where we have been and where weare

American artist Jenny Holzer has taken the fourth floor of the
Whitney Museum on the upper eastside of New York, and installed a series
of her LED pieces as well as an arrangement of images stretched over
canvas, a few marble benches, and a table of bones. The LEDpieces are
engineered in such a way that text is scrolled across the surface
of the machines, sometimes at varied velocity, sometimes densely
layered. The text presented on the surface of these objects is both
Holzer's own writing as well as redacted text from official United
States Military and Federal Government documentation declassified under
the freedom of information act and now available to the general public.

In her installation, the LED pieces are arranged in various
ways throughout the galleries on the fourth floor of the Whitney. Some
lay flat, filling an entire room. Others are hung from corners of the
galleries, horizontally between walls, and between the floor and the
wall. One of the galleries is dedicated specifically to the canvas
based 'redacted' pieces, while other spaces used for the exhibition
display integrated environments ofboth canvas and LED components.

Holzer's conceptual and ideological purpose in this exhibition,
asstated in the accompanying texts by the curatorial staff of the
Whitney, seek to address several difficult polemics which contemporary
art has been struggling to adequately scrutinize and address in recent
years. Torture, hegemony, imperialism, war, and technology are arguably
the defining issues which framing the public discourse of American
life in this day. We are abrutal species, we are a brutal nation.
Holzer's success in personalizing these issues, effectively placing
a human face on the bureaucracy of power, revealing the institutional
cruelty of imperialism and war, as well as mounting a considerably
graphic intellectual barrage against the system itself is palpable and

On one of my visits to the exhibition recently, I overhead
a conversation between two young Caucasian males, likely to be
American, which I surmised based upon their accent. 'Look Mark,
come read this, check this out' one of them said to the other. One
of them had read through one of the paintings, of which contained the
declassified military document detailing an interview with a member of
the armed forces who had been accused of a war crime against a Iraqi
national. During the same visit, a young child, probably about nine
or ten, happened to be inquisitively intrigued by one of the LED
pieces, the one which formally appeared as a series of arcs installed
between the wall and the floor of the gallery. 'Hey, don't go near
that', screamed one of the security guards, castigating the child for
their interest in attaining a closer inspection of the work.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last two decades,
you are probably well aware of the campaign of violence that the
United States has been conducting both covertly and in plain sight
against Iraq. A UN supported offensive during most of the presidency of
William Jefferson Clinton included military warplanes dropping bombs on
so-called targets of strategic interest (including domestic powdered
milk production factories), and engaging in aservices and commercial
blockade restricting medical supplies. The journalistic record has
diligently and quite clearly documented the toll of such policies
on the population of Iraq, which according to some 'conservative'
estimates resulted in the deaths of some five hundred thousand Iraqi
children; a fact which has been characterized by former US Secretary
State Madeline Albright as being 'worth it', given the so-called
threat former intelligence asset Iraqidictator Saddam Hussein
presented to the people of the United States. The corporate media
sanctioned war, the 'shock and awe' campaign, who some argue was
named so due to the closely timed similarities to the Chaldean
'shekinah' sacrifice ritual, furthered the scale of hyper-violence,
claiming an untold number of direct and indirect causalities, most of
whom were unfortunately, women andchildren.

Holzer's stratagem of visual presentation does well in transcending
the architectural space framing the exhibition. The impression of
the pieces imbuesan ephemeral quality, kinetically transposing a
multifaceted techno-spatialenvironment which seemingly attracts and
possess the consciousness of theviewers pausing to engage the work. In
her own writing, Holzer's self-awareness to her own condition in the
world as a woman, and as a citizen of the United States, extenuates a
sensible quality of personal reflection which can be gratifying. The
viewer enters the field ofthe personal, provided their interest in
the poetic inflections stirs the human qualities inherent in journals
and memoirs. There is a light quality to the movement reflected by the
scrolling nature of LED-text pieces that is certainly a core feature
of their seductive nature. The technological brutalism resonating from
a machine echoing first-hand accounts of torture reminded me of an
oversized, eerie, and macabre ATM machine spilling liquid amounts of
dark data. The canvases and prints, various declassified documents
with a considerable volume of material 'blacked-out' by the censor
apparatchik, have the look and feel of paintings which I found to have
a reductive implication on the otherwise contextually powerful images.
Projecting the redacted texts on stretcher bars away from the wall
gave a heavy objectness to the pieces that I found to be weighted and

Holzer's point of engagement on these issues is, rather
unfortunately, framed by their complicity with the media sanctioned
narrative on September 11th,on Iraq, and on Afghanistan. It's the
type of work that you would expect to be in a museum, a safe,
sterile, comfortable environment where we, the enablers, can conduct
some level of guilty, self-flagellation over the crimes which we have
allowed our government to get away with. It is a goddamn sad fact that
art world, which should be in the activity of the alternative, instead
looks like a group of material positivists or empirical reductionisms.
It does not or will not be perceived as a real threat to challenging
real problems; the hegemony of corporate and state power which is the
very rubric of violence in the world today.

This work is rubber stamped with institutionally approved
soft-radicalism. The cathartic trigger that needs to occur, that should
be occurring, is not apparent here.

Chad Scoville is an engineer based in New York, NY.

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