Notes for Discussion - Jenny Holzer

The work of Jenny Holzer has been shown worldwide in prominent institutions such as the guggenheim Museum (New York), the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy), the Institute of Contemporary Art London (London, England) or the Centre Pompidou (Paris, France).

However, the main focus of jenny holzer has been on the investigation of means to disseminate her ideas within public space. since the late seventies, she has been working in the street and in public buildings, using media that would enable her work to blend in the landscape. from lcd displays (e.g., in Times Square, New York) to posters and stickers (applied to such urban elements as telephone booths or parking meters), the texts function as comments on that environment they fit into, stimulating awareness of our social conditioning as conveyed by the very landscape in which we may be confronted by them.

Truisms - Act of Artistic Mediation

Jenny Holzer's Truisms are "truths" that lie at the boundary of truth and our perception of truths in the post-modern landscape. Holzer inserts her truisms into public spaces, on T-shirts, and electronic billboards placed in museums and galleries. As a fixture in public space, they are in jarring juxtaposition to the commodified world around us of mass media, advertising, product marketing, and all the various "non-truisms" that are fed to us everyday. In this sense, the Truisms are an act of artistic mediation, in that Holzer inserts her work and ideas into the real world where they activate critique and analysis of surrounding cultural, economic and political conditions. The following are examples:

An installation on the Times Square Spectro Billboard

A projection from Holzer's anti-war
installation in Leipzig, Germany.


Installation at the Guggenheim Museum, NY

A Cel-phone display

installation, xenon projection
on the banks of the Arno, Florence

Please Change Beliefs
Critical Art Ensemble - Tactical Media
Steve KURTZ, Hope KURTZ, Dorian BURR, Steven BARNES, Beverly SCHLEE

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), founded in 1987, is a collective of five tactical media artists of various specialization including computer art, film, video, photography, text art, book art, and performance. CAE's focus has been on the exploration of the relations and intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The collective has performed and produced projects for an international audience, and has written three books: The Electronic Disturbance, and its companion text, Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas, and Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness. Using a combination of humor, critical theory, and the visual motifs of the publicity machine of contemporary consumer culture, Critical Art Ensemble have produced artists' books and pamphlets which work as media of strategic intervention. Useless Technology, a newsprint sheet which parodies tabloid advertising, circulates in the culture at large outside the world of museums or galleries where its disruptive irreverence could be safely contained by its "art" identity.

"The term 'tactical media' refers to a critical usage and theorization of media practices that draw on all forms of old and new, both lucid and sophisticated media, for achieving a variety of noncommercial goals and pushing all kinds of potentially subversive political issues."

"The electronic body is the perfect body. The electronic body is a body without organs. It is both self and mirrored self. The electronic body does not decay; it does not need the plastic surgeon's scalpel, lip o-suction, make-up or deodorant."

"... A new decentralized communication apparatus arose, made possible by the ascendancy of computer and satellite technology, that allows multinational power to retreat into absence, where it is free from the theater of subversive operations because it can be everywhere yet nowhere simultaneously ..."

"... Resistant forces no longer require violence nor destruction to obtain their goals. All that is needed are courageous virtual activists with the skills to slow the velocity of the system. This is the heart of the tactics of electronic civil disobedience."

"Collective action solves some of the problems of navigating market-driven cultural economy by allowing the individual to escape the skewed power relationships between the individual and the institution. More significantly, however, collective action also helps alleviate the intensity of alienation born of an overly rationalized and instrumentalized culture by recreating some of the positive points of friendship networks within a productive environment. For this reason, CAE believes that artists’ research into alternative forms of social organization is just as important as the traditional research into materials, processes, and products."

– Critical Art Ensemble

Critical Art Ensemble, “Recombinant Theater and Digital Resistance,” Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media

"Recombination and digitality are not so specialized. As we
shall see, they are the foundation of a new cosmology — a new way of understanding, ordering, valuing, and performing in the world."

Critical Art Ensemble operate in the tradition of 20th century avant-garde mixology, cultural appropriation, plagiarism, and sociopolitical critique.

"The first evidence of it appeared in 1870 when le Comte de
Lautréamont wrote: “Plagiarism is necessary. Recombinant Theater and Digital Resistance 77 Progre
ss implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.” In three sentences Lautréamont summed up the methods and means of digital aesthetics as a process of copying—a process that offers dominant culture minimal material for recuperation by recycling the same images, actions, and sounds into radical discourse. Over the past century, a long-standing tradition of digital cultural resistance has emerged that has used recombinant methods in the various forms of combines, sampling, pan gender performance, bricolage, detournement, readymades, appropriation, plagiarism, theater of everyday life, constellations, and so on."

They approach digital technologies as a continuum of techniques of reproduction and replication, as practiced by such pre-digital artists as Marcel Duchamp in his Readymades and Andy Warhol at the Factory. "If Henry Ford is the avatar of a digital economy, then his contemporary Marcel Duchamp is the avatar of digital culture. With his readymade series, Duchamp struck a mighty blow against the value system of the analogic. Duchamp took manufactured objects, signed and dated them, and placed them in a highculture context. Duchamp’s argument was that any given object has no essential value and that the semiotic network in which an object is placed defines its meaning, and hence, its value. If a bottle rack is in a hardware store or next to a sink in a kitchen, its value is defined by its function and its appearance is mundane; however, when it is placed on a pedestal in the legitimizing space of a gallery or museum (where the readymades reside to this day) and when it carries the signature of a legitimized artist, each object becomes a nonfunctional object d’art, and therefore an object of high value."

The Urinal - R. Mutt (Duchamp)

The Bicycle Wheel- (Duchamp)

"Andy Warhol was emblematic of the many artists, musicians, and writers who reintroduced the idea of the digital to a now-eager audience. Warhol discovered that all the people of digital culture really wanted was more of the same."

"Che Guevara" (Warhol)

The tension in contemporary society is one that comes from the relationship between the uniqueness of the aesthetic (analogic) to efficiency but sameness of reproducibility (digital). Starbucks has hybridized the cafe to blend uniqueness and sameness, gourmet and predictability. Marketing genius...

Starbucks Cafe

"The lesson learned from this is that in the practical arena of the commodity, precise replication is more desirable; however, in the aesthetic realm of the commodity, the appearance of difference is more desirable."

The discovery of DNA in the 1940s led science to believe that the human body is digital in our understanding of the basic building blocks of life. The notion of replication in the context of the body has led to what is called a "post-human" condition in which food, medicine and even criminal investigation is increasingly approached in a digital capacity. This has often been referred to as cyborgian (Cyber organism).

Flesh Machine, Critical Art Ensemble (1997)

Their approach to presentation is in the form of totalizing theater that spills over disciplinary boundaries: performance, pedagogy, visual, theoretical, virtual, mass media. "The most common response to the problem in the fine arts and humanities, both in the university and in the culture industry, is a call for interdisciplinarity." Each member of CAE has a complementary but different school: technology, visual media, theory, performance, etc. As a collective they bring together a formidable ability to tackle issues and develop projects with amazing breadth and clarity.

Their presentations, mostly in the form of pedagogical workshops, are performative in nature, utilizing techniques of information distribution, computer interaction, visual display, on-line access to project information. They derive their performative techniques and the way they draw from Everyday Life to the happenings and situational events of the 1950s - 60s. One of these foundational environments is the theater of everyday life, which includes street theater and (for lack of a better term) what Alan Kaprow called “happenings... those performances that invent ephemeral, autonomous situations from which temporary public relationships emerge that can make possible critical dialogue on a given issue. Traditional examples of this type of activity come from the Living Theater, the Theater of the Oppressed, Guerrilla Art Action Group, Rebel Chicano Art Front, and the Situationists...are the key components for further recombination that come from the theater of everyday life."

The International Campaign for Free Alcohol and Tobacco
for the unemployed, Sheffield, 1999.

Tactical Gizmology Workshop
Eyebeam, New York City, 2002