Jenny Holzer

The artist Jenny Holzer created For SAAM, a column of light and text, for the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)

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What first inspired you to project your text onto public spaces?

I wanted to find a successor to the electronic billboards that I'd inhabited, an additional way to show writing. I like presenting text to the public, to general audiences, in hopes its of interest and use. I thought the quality of the projection different from that of electronics that make you think of Wall Street and news. The projections are more mysterious.

Without getting too technical, can you explain how the projections work?

The projections use large computer-controlled machines to throw text on rivers, oceans, trees, mountains and buildings. Typically I'll be invited to project from one night to indefinitely, and I'll show a selection of my text or choices of poems or quotations by many people. The most recent projection was at the Kennedy Center where we presented text by JFK and Teddy Roosevelt on the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island. Those quotations had to do with the necessity to tell the truth about the president and citizens' responsibilities in the wide and scary world. For the Smithsonian installation, I'm making an LED array. What will be indoors there hopefully will resemble sculpture.

You've projected text onto Rome's Spanish Steps, the Reichstag and a beach in Rio de Janeiro. What has been your favorite medium?

I like water. Very recently we projected on the Pacific Ocean. We had poems there about war and peace—and those seemed timely. And, courtesy of the loveliness of the sea, the poems were especially moving.

Your most challenging project?

Probably in Liverpool, where the fog rolled in. Apart from a brief moment, when the text appeared in the sky and looked miraculous, the fog killed the projections for awhile. Other sites have been challenging courtesy of their tough histories, and some have been daunting because the places are so beautiful that we have to measure up. So there is a big range of challenges.

In this work, why was it important for you to use your own words, as opposed to other people's quotes?

I make different text selections for different moments and places. I hadn't used my own writing for so long that I became curious about it again.


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