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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This is your first full-cylinder column of text viewable from 360 degrees. What are some of the technical challenges?

This is a new configuration. It's a relatively dematerialized piece, in that it consists of very thin, tall strips. And about the technical challenges: may I confess that we're not finished, so I hope that the problems will show themselves very soon so we can dispatch them.

Well, what could go wrong?

This piece will need to hang straight for the text to look as good as possible, so we're trying to find right amount of weight to place at the bottom. That's one consideration. We believe that we've picked diodes that are bright enough, but not too bright. And it goes on from there.

By varying the style of the text, the cylinder appears to be in motion. Why did you want this effect?

I don't know whether that will be possible, so I can't quite make that claim. We always discover something when we make an installation like this one; because it isn't the sort of piece you can build in your basement and experiment with. How it ultimately will appear will be revealed to me, as well as everybody else, when it goes up. I am guessing though that when the text spirals up the cylinder, either the artwork or the room might seem to move.

Do you feel the urge to use more provocative text when working in Washington?

If anything, it makes me a bit cautious because I think gratuitous provocation is stupid. That said, there's always plenty going on in Washington that is somewhere between exciting and maddening [laughs]. I think the text is diverse, democratic enough that there will be something for everyone. And I hope that sincerity will come through—a glimpse of my wanting things to turn out well, which I trust is alive and well in Washington.

So many factors, like weather and natural disasters, have affected your work. How do you make do?

Sometimes we're lucky. For example, a dust storm in Mexico let us see the letters in the air as they moved from the projectors. We were able to see letters from the back and that's rare. Other times the weather just makes the audience and us feel wet and miserable, as we're being rained on [laughs].


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