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A Study on Political Aspects of Jenny Holzer's Text-Based Works

오유진 1

1이화여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This thesis is concerned with political aspects in the works of Jenny Holzer(1950-). She,a representative artist who uses words, has interacted with people through socially critical texts since the late 1970s. Previous studies about her works mostly focus on analyzing the early texts which were written by herself. Thus, her texts which are borrowed from outside and artworks, such as LED sculptures and light projections, which emphasize visual perception effects are neglected in those studies. Consideration of texts and mediums together provides crucial clues for comprehensive understanding of diverse works of Holzer. Therefore, in this thesis I would also examine her borrowed texts and strategies for mediums and exhibition spaces and attempt to figure out a visual realization of the sociopolitical dimensions in her artworks. Holzer adopted words as a medium in her works due to the influence of Conceptual Art which was in a dominant position when she started her career as an artist. Conceptual Art emphasized an artist's idea and suggested a concept of art as information to get rid of traditional notions of art. During a period when many of her contemporaries participated in activism groups, Holzer was also an member of one of the activism groups and worked on a number of events. She explored the relationship between power and language in non-art contexts. Based on the experiences of collaboration in the group, she has been constantly interested in social problems and interacted actively with people. Holzer’s messages, framed in simple and unadorned language, run the gamut of contemporary concerns, among them AIDS, torture, war, sexual violence against women and abuse of power by authority. Her early works remind us that social ideologies are internalized as individual faiths through language and expose the coercion that is usually hidden in language. Meanwhile, the texts about sexual assaults against women urge us to pay more attention to others who were sacrificed in the war as well as victimized women. Also, the works based on previously classified documents reveal the manipulation of information by the government and deal with contemporary issues. Likewise, Holzer's texts sharply reflect the absurdities of our society and induce flexible interpretations by excluding the intervention of the author. In her early works, Holzer used strategies borrowed directly from the mass media and amazed people with unexpected phrases on the street. She also reflected urban landscape and reminded people the historical meanings of the exhibition sites through site-specific works. On the other hand, works using light as a medium, such as LED signs and light projections, emphasize the visual aspect of words, so lead to new understandings of the texts. To sum up, Holzer concentrated on conveying messages to a large number of people in her early career, but is becoming more interested in the aesthetic side in her works with time. Her works attempt to underline the socially critical contents through the visual effects,and allow liberal interpretations of themselves. In this regard, her works can be seen to have a unique political dimension. As aforementioned, Holzer’s works are characterized by the combination of various texts and mediums, and her persistent efforts to change our society by art underlie her works in general. This study aims to research the political aspects and common ground in her diverse artworks. Also, this thesis would examine the instances that words are not only used for communication but also used for aesthetic purposes in her works, thus it attempts to find out political dimensions of her artworks in a broad sense.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.