‘It’s Necessary to Be Emotionally Engaged’: Jenny Holzer on Using LED Lights to Expose Injustice

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Jenny Holzer at the Guggenheim Museum. Photo: Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images.

Consumerist obsession, systematic abuses, political oppression: over the course of her career, Jenny Holzer has drawn attention to the baser aspects of human nature and relations. Her hallmark use of LED lights, often installed in public areas, is intentionally reminiscent of the more typical and banal uses of bright, flashing signs as advertisements and construction alerts.

Her use of aphorisms—such as the #MeToo rallying cry, “abuse of power comes as no surprise”—makes her work endlessly relevant. But there was a period when she took a hiatus from linguistic aspect of her work, as she explained in an exclusive 2009 interview with Art21.

Jenny Holzer, For Chicago (2007). Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago.

“I have no idea whether I’ll write again,” she said candidly as part of Art21’s “Extended Play” series, which coincided with the installation of her solo show, “PROTECT PROTECT,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. That exhibition featured the work Red Yellow Looming (2004), which projects texts excerpted from US government documents describing actions in Iraq. “It’s necessary to be emotionally engaged when writing about these topics. So yes, it’s exhausting at times,” she explained.

The work is featured in the Met Breuer’s current exhibition, “Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy.” The show, which closes this weekend, brings together works by 30 contemporary artists who engage with the subterranean networks of power that often give rise to conspiracy theories.

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy” is on view at the Met Breuer through January 6, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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