American artist Jenny Holzer's career spans more than thirty-five years, in which time she's presented her astringent ideas, arguments and sorrows in public places and international exhibits. Her work has been showcased at 7 World Trade Center, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, a plaque, or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work.
Starting in the 1970s with the New York City posters, and continuing through her recent light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has rivalled ignorance and violence with humour, kindness, and courage.
In her latest exhibition, SOFTER, Holzer uses Blenheim Palace as a dramatic backdrop and explores notions of power, conflict and the aftermath of war, which address the military and political history of the 18th century Palace.
Works include a dynamic LED artwork, STATEMENT, suspended from the ceiling of the Great Hall. The Long Library features a unique electronic sign installation, For Blenheim, and a site-specific sound installation, SERVICE, with spoken testimony from UK war veterans and serving personnel. Alongside these installations, several examples of Holzer’s paintings of U.S. government documents pertaining to recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are juxtaposed with the Palace’s Baroque interior furnishings.
Further work by Holzer is placed throughout the courtyard and interior halls, with a new series of limestone and marble benches engraved with poetry by Polish poet Anna Świrszczyńska responding to the Palace’s architecture. In addition, a procession of potted black mondo grass lines the courtyard pathway to the main entrance.
Holzer also explores the potential of digitally-rendered space with a virtual reality application, OF WAR, developed especially for Blenheim Palace with text contributed by The Not Forgotten Association. The bespoke app will allow visitors to experience Holzer’s work through their mobile and tablet devices, providing an interactive engagement with the historical site.
Accompanying the exhibition is a series of large-scale light projections, ON WAR, that illuminate the Palace’s grand exterior and transform the grounds after dark from 28 September – 10 October. For these evening events, text is projected onto the Great Courtyard and Queen Elizabeth Island, bringing to light the experiences of those who have witnessed war.
The light projections draw on first-hand accounts of recent conflicts, contributed by UK veterans and active military personnel via The Not Forgotten Association; testimonies of people affected by the Syrian civil war, taken from interviews conducted by Save the Children and Human Rights Watch; as well as poems by Anna Świrszczyńska and contemporary refugee writers.
Jenny Holzer is the fourth contemporary artist to exhibit at Blenheim Palace, following exhibitions by Ai Weiwei, Lawrence Weiner and Michelangelo Pistoletto. The exhibition continues Blenheim Art Foundation’s commitment to exposing new audiences to contemporary art by showcasing the most important artists working today within one of England’s most treasured landmarks.
SOFTER runs until 31 December 2017. Discover more at blenheimartfoundation.org.uk.
Main image: Great Table, 2017. SOFTER: Jenny Holzer at Blenheim Palace, Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, UK, 2017 © 2017 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Photo: Edd Horder