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Jenny Holzer: BALTIC

The ultimate text-based artist speaks to Dazed about her incredible new exhibition at the BALTIC gallery

Jenny Holzer began working as an artist in the 70s. She made a name for herself with a series of text-based works borrowing sentences from various sources, employing everything from marketing slogans to philosophical writing. Originally exhibiting these on the streets of New York as posters, her work quickly began to garner attention and Holzer soon found herself displaying them in international museums and at acclaimed festivals, including the Venice Biennale. Discovering LED lighting in the 80s, she began to utilise the technology in her work, and is now well known for her rolling LED light boxes that display her statements of intent, known as Truisms. Holzer’s work is held in both public and private art collections worldwide, and she has consistently had celebrated exhibitions in major institutions and galleries in Europe, the US and Asia over the last 30 years, the latest of which is a solo exhibition at BALTIC starting this Friday. You can read an extended interview with Jenny Holzer in the current issue of Dazed & Confused.

Dazed Digital: Were you interested in art as a child?
Jenny Holzer: Enormously, but I gave up on it pretty quickly as there seemed no conceivable prospect. I had seen pictures of Picasso but that’s hard to identify with when you’re a five year old kid in Ohio.

DD: What was it that inspired you to use text so centrally in your work?
JH: It was terse and informative. I wanted to do things that were not wasteful, and these captions were crisp. There was completeness and no sloppiness. There are no adjectives in captions, for the most part.

DD: You originally placed the text works on the street, as posters. Was there any way of gauging how they were originally received?
JH: I had two ways of getting feedback. I could stand in the dark and see if people would stop and read them, which they did; that was gratifying. I would also go back to the works after some time to see if people had written on them.

DD: What sort of things did people write?
JH: Sometimes it was whether or not they agreed. I have an old photograph of one of the posters that different people had written ‘yes/no/yes/no’ on to the statements. Halfway through one work, I guess someone had noticed the sentences were contradictory. They had simply put a line through the rest and written ‘too much shit’. That’s not the kind of feedback you can get in a gallery.

DD: Now you’re well known for your LED works. How did that they start?
JH: I was invited to do a piece for one of the large light boards on Times Square. It wasn’t LED at the time, but something similar. I liked doing that so much that I went and found small LED versions that I could program myself. That’s where it all started, back in the early 80s.

DD: Do you believe that producing and displaying on the street is as valid as displaying in a museum?
JH: Absolutely, I like working for the general public. What originated as posters have now become projections that are shown in public places.

Jenny Holzer exhibition runs at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art from Friday March 5 – Sunday May 16