Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jenny Holzer's Powerpoint Paintings/New Technologies of War/Art

Jenny Holzer's art has, for quite some time, been making language actions into public spaces--one of the persistent motifs of this blog--and though she has been criticized by art critics and poets alike for her sometimes stentorian approaches, she is an undeniably thought-provoking artist. This is a review of her recent exhibition at the Mass MOCA.

One of her recent projects has been to use classified or recently declassified documents as works of art--particularly regarding the War On Terror. In these art interventions, she participates in the tradition of documentary art and documentary poetry. From the review:
In contrast to the richly metaphorical projections, the paintings are as efficient as hammers. Each of 15 same-size, medium-large canvases, stained purple or brown, bears an all-black, silk-screened reproduction of a PowerPoint diagram used in 2002 to brief President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and others on the United States Central Command’s plan for invading Iraq. Ms. Holzer found these documents at the Web site of the independent, nongovernmental National Security Archive (, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act.

Each has a map of Iraq and blocks of text describing exactly how the invasion and conquest would proceed. They itemize goals like “Kill, apprehend, marginalize Iraqi leadership”; “Destroy remaining pockets of resistance”; and “Secure known W.M.D. sites.” (In an upstairs gallery two large silk-screened works reproduce an eye-opening e-mail debate over the treatment of detainees.)

The PowerPoint paintings give the impression of a cool, rational, step-by-step logic born of technocratic hubris. Ms. Holzer is practicing a form of political action with these paintings. She’s also producing art: a canny blend of Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism. The paintings call to mind Mark Lombardi’s penciled diagrams of global, power-elite conspiracies. They’re not as elegantly refined visually, but they feel equally necessary.

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