New York artist Jenny Holzer’s LED slogans rise and fall to a John Cage soundtrack in today’s short from director Ringo Tang. Using an aesthetic that mixes Bladerunner’s visions of the postmodern megalopolis with The Matrix’s cascading waterfalls of code, Tang has constructed a video montage of Holzer’s latest polychromatic show Light Stream at Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong. “I want to share the way I feel about her work with more people,” says the filmmaker, “and make them think more deeply about the value of the world.” Holzer first rose to prominence in 1982 when she showed her text works on the massive Spectacolor screen at Times Square, becoming part of a highly influential generation of female artists including Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler. “Light Stream” is her largest ever LED installation, comprising of three of her own classic texts—Truisms, Survival and Living—which appear in both English and Chinese and dance around her spiraling minimalist sculptures in eight-hour cycles of mechanical writing. “I became addicted to electronics,” says Holzer of her attraction to working with LED. “I just like looking at them, and making them do tricks.”
Why do you like to use such a variety of materials?
Jenny Holzer: I like to provide different opportunities for people to read. When someone traces text cut in stone with their hand, that’s a very different experience to when one sees something in light flashing by. I might choose stone if it’s a text that’s meant to be immemorial, but if it’s a series of poetry I might want to use projected light. When a poem in light caresses a building, or floats across a river and glides over trees, it can be just right.
How do advances in technology change the way you work?
JH: First I started with street posters because they were available to me and seemed to make sense for the sentences I was writing. After I did that anonymously for a number of years I had, really almost by accident, a chance to put something up on the big sign at One Times Square. So I had to think about what the change meant when I went from an underground medium, the poster, to an official one, the LED that’s typically used for advertising or the news.
What inspired “Light Stream”?
JH: I wanted a piece to occupy space. My first electronic signs were very simple ones that would hang flat on the wall and I could program them on my kitchen table. I wanted to make this one more sculptural, to have a physical presence, probably because I was looking back to minimalism and my admiration for Donald Judd. I arranged my sculptures in arrays; some look like the human body, like ribs for example, other times it’s more about geometry. My next installation is the first that will wrap all the way around, so the text can break loose and go crazy. But I haven’t shown it yet; it’s still in the laboratory!