I’ve been a huge fan of Jenny Holzer ever since I came across her book at the Guggenheim in Venice six years ago. I was stoked when I was finally able to see her works in persona couple of years ago – LED signs at a London gallery and her “Inflammatory Essays” at the Tate Modern. When I found out that she was exhibiting at the Whitney, I thought, well same ol’ stuff but hey I’m down.
Although her LED signs were fascinating, there was one particular room that struck me by surprise – she displayed “Redaction Paintings,” that is, declassified government documents that have been blacked out or redacted by government censors claiming some parts too sensitive for the public. These documents displayed include autopsy reports of detainees, interrogation techniques, redacted handprints of those accused of crimes, and strategic war maps.
What I found most disturbing yet profound was her “Lustmord Table.” Initially I walked by it, thinking nothing of it, until I read about it in the pamphlet and quickly returned to it. Lustmord, loosely meaning “rape-slaying, sex-murder, or lust-killing” in German, consists of human bones neatly laid out on a table. Affected by the war in former Yugaslovia (1992-1995) where rape and murder of women and girls was a systematic tactic by Bosnian-Serb forces, some of these bones consisted of silver bands engraved with text of the accounts of the victim, perpetrator, and witness. What was frustrating was not being able to read all the text at once which I later found out was the whole point – a “metaphor for the variety of viewpoints expressed.”*
Moving on to something more lighthearted,I absolutely loved Claes Oldenburg‘s giant replicas of a BLT sandwich, fries with ketchup, crushed cigarette butts, and an ice pack. Made of vinyl, these items reminded me of when I was in 5th grade – we learned about tall tales á la Paul Bunyan. Then we were divided in groups and each group had to create a giant object, something that Paul Bunyan would use. Where as others made a toothbrush and a shaving cream can, my group randomly chose to make a Pepsi can (to this day I wonder why didn’t we choose Coca-Cola?!). If only I was clever enough to make giant fries with ketchup instead.
*from the Whitney Museum’s “Jenny Holzer: Protect Protect” pamphlet