Jenny Holzer on the Web

As I was browsing through her work at Adaweb, I came across a baseball
cap which was, naturally, for sale. It featured the Holzer all-caps
lettering and read, THE FUTURE IS STUPID.

You've got to at least crack a smile at that one. It's the word STUPID, a kid's
word, one nobody ever uses anymore. But, like most of Holzer's one-liners, it
gets you thinking.

Some Truisms are surprisingly straightforward (FATHERS OFTEN USE TOO
MUCH FORCE) while others are a bit slipperier (CONFUSING YOURSELF IS A WAY TO STAY
HONEST). Nearly all of them give one pause.

Like Warhol before her, and Gertrude Stein before him, Holzer employs a very American,
very self-consciously naive voice, one which calls even more attention to itself
and its message when viewed in a context overcrowded with polysyllabic criticism.

Holzer wants art to be out there: you may run across it in Times Square, on a Las
Vegas marquee (PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT), on pencils, T-shirts, a baseball cap.
Now you can find it on the Web.

The Web may be an awful place for painters, but if you want to flash text at people as
they surf on by and you've always had a thing for recent innovations in communication
technologies, you could hardly do better anywhere else. On the web you can get your
art into the public domain but what's more, your audience can be allowed
to reach in and manipulate it. At Holzer's Adaweb site, you can vote on the truisms
you like, submit a form admitting which ones you actually believe, even add to a
list of viewer-improved versions.

Holzer is evidently getting help from the Ada crew, and it makes a difference.
Your browser gets force fed with images that splash over text and then disappear.
You're ushered on to the next page without so much as a thought of clicking. Without
being conscious of any shift, you may find you're not even looking at Holzer anymore.
You're somewhere else – very Holzerish perhaps – but definitely somewhere else.

Holzer's work also appears at a poetry site, Hugo's Word Slam.
Here, you can look at two plates from "Laments", long vertical pieces with short,
centered lines that were originally carved into sarcophagi. These are not at all as
punchy as the Truisms. The naivite is still there, but the language goes farther beneath

Quoting out of context hardly does these Laments justice; as you
read, down, down, down, you realize a narrative and a character behind it
are forming. This is no longer the disembodied voice of art blazing at you
from a corner of a gallery or Times Square. There is a body attached to
this voice, and a chilling suspicion grows that that voice and its body are

There's a school of poetry in Britain called the Martians, and the poems
from this group achieve a similarly eerie, under-the-skin effect by looking
at the world from innocent, unworldly eyes. Neither the Truisms nor the
Laments "make sense" to the rational mind alone. We experience even the
plainest of the Truisms viscerally. The mind checks the words, measures
them against the facts, but it's the body that suggests there's more to
Holzer's voice than meets the mind's eye. And reads on.

Someone passes, accessorized with a baseball cap. The mind reads THE FUTURE
IS STUPID, thinks, not much to chew on there, next - but the body, perhaps
intuitively aware of what the FUTURE has in store for it, tells the mind:
Stop. Read again.

Jenny Holzer on Adaweb:

And Hugo Word Slam: