Jenny Holzer is a neo-conceptualist whose work focuses on the delivery words in short, simple phrases in public spaces. Lady Pink is a graffiti artist and muralist whose work is rebellious and self-expressive. In 1983, the artists combined their two mediums on one canvas to form the piece “I AM NOT FREE BECAUSE I CAN BE EXPLODED ANYTIME.”
Holzer is known for presenting her short, cryptic phrases, which she displays in public spaces through a variety of mediums, including LED light displays (which look more or less like the displays on city buses, which alert viewers to where that bus is headed), T-shirts, and even condoms. She got the idea to start writing these short truths in college, when she was assigned a particularly long and dense reading list: she knew the books on the list were important, and she wanted their messages to reach the general public, but she knew most people would never read the books. She took to simplifying the books’ takeaways into concise, thematic phrases and displaying them with ink on white paper in public spaces, where she could watch passers-by engage with and react to the pieces. Because the phrases are necessarily short and lacking in detail, the concepts they communicate can be unnerving, as of a warning against something unknown. For this reason, this work and others have been described as subversive; her words simultaneously confuse and control her audience. Consider the phrases, “REMEMBER TO REACT”, “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT” (this printed on a condom), and the instruction, “PUT FOOD OUT IN THE SAME PLACE EVERY DAY AND TALK TO THE PEOPLE WHO COME TO EAT AND ORGANIZE THEM.”
Such provocative and anti-establishment statements, already powerful on their own, are amplified when juxtaposed with dystopian or surrealistic imagery of the sort characteristic of Lady Pink. For “I AM NOT FREE BECAUSE I CAN BE EXPLODED ANYTIME,” the muralist spray-painted haunting images of bodies in despair in sickening shades of green, blue, and orange on a large canvas, which Holzer then supplemented by hand-lettering one of her recognizably cryptic phrases. Like others of Holzer’s work, “I AM NOT FREE…” confronts viewers’ emotions and forces them to consider the eerie and even devastating undercurrents of the society they live in.
sources and background:
Glueck, Grace. “And Now, a Few Words From Jenny Holzer.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Dec. 1989, www.nytimes.com/1989/12/03/magazine/and-now-a-few-words-from-jenny-holzer.html.
Jeffries, Stuart. “Jenny Holzer: Drawn to the Dark Side.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 June 2012, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/jun/04/jenny-holzer-interview.