ArtId Art Blog
There__™s quite an amazing installation on display at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. Jenny Holzer__™s Projections casts poems by Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska across a darkened room the length of a football field. Walking through these projected words is at first like half-listening: I caught fragments of words but could not put them together, dimly aware of trees, pens and paper, bodies and discomfort. When I stood at the end of the hall, I could read each word clearly as it appeared. The lines arrived more slowly than the time it took to read them, which allowed each line to fully register: ___Nothing has changed. / The body is a reservoir of pain ...___
Reading a few poems in this unconventional way is one thing__"but that is only part of the exhibit. Walk to the far end of the hall and you__™ll find another room, smaller and more like a regular art gallery. Here, Holzer has displayed huge canvas reproductions of declassified documents detailing plans for the invasion of Iraq. The simplicity of the words__" protect, isolate, detain, free, destroy__" contrasts with the mess that we know is actually happening in Iraq. What is also shocking is how the writers of the presentation seemed to genuinely believe that 1) there were WMDs to be found, and 2) that a successful new government could be in place within a mere 135 days. !IMAGE193! Upstairs from this gallery is the third part of the exhibit, which serves as the visceral and disturbing punch line. Again, reproduced in macro scale, Holzer has hung an email exchange in which two American soldiers debate the uses of torture, and beside this is a ___Wish List___ of aggressive interrogation techniques. The list__™s matter-of-fact wording is chilling. It includes descriptions like, ___Confinement of subject in extremely close quarters. Discomfort induces compliance and cooperation.___
The declassified documents use language that is institutional, political, and abstract. It enables widespread human suffering. When viewers are bathed in the light of a poet__™s words, language is something very different__"it is particular and personal, and while it cannot make sense of suffering, it documents it determinedly and with heart-wrenching beauty. ___The little soul roams those landscapes ... / whereas the body is and is and is / and has nowhere to go.___
The angle at which the poems are projected means you have to stand in a certain place in the room for several minutes in order to read an entire poem. It is possible to walk through the exhibit hardly reading anything, just as it is possible to ignore the stories of the tortured victims of war. What amazes me most about this exhibit is the juxtaposition Holzer has created. You can stand in front of the emails, read an objective description of torture, and then turn around to see Szymborska__™s subjective description of torture spilling over the floor.
*** Projections by Jenny Holzer is on exhibit through Fall 2008. Hours and information at www.massmoca.org
The poem ___Tortures___ is from Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska (Harvest Books, New Ed edition, 2000).
*** Kathryn Good-Schiff has studied visual art and environmental studies, and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Goddard College. Her work has appeared in Kalliope, SNReview, Pank, and Drive By Poets. Her blog about poetry and art can be found at www.dragonsmeow.blogspot.com. She lives in Western Massachusetts.