The Weekly Wall | #012 | Jenny Holzer ‘The Inflammatory Essays’, Tate Modern
Nearest Station: Blackfriars
Another weekly wall, another wall in a museum. Who knew that places of education could be so good for large-scale walls? The Tate Modern is full of inspiration in its architecture alone, yet this piece from Jenny Holzer provides a vibrant contrast to the grey tonal walls of the Herzog & de Meuron-designed building.
While on initial viewing the series of colourful posters on the wall may look rather aesthetically pleasing, the reality is much more. ‘The Inflammatory Essays’, a striking series of posters which the artist produced between 1979 and 1982, were pasted on walls throughout heavily populated areas of New York City. The series of prints presents a range of provocative statement depicting extreme ideas inspired by the likes of major political figures such as Emma Goldman, Mao Tse-Tung, and Vladimir Lenin. Since childhood, Holzer had been interested in ‘rapturous writing’ and wanted to write ‘ecstatic, fantastic things’ inspired by the texts of political theorists, religious fanatics and impassioned ‘folk’ literature.
Each essay has exactly 100 words in twenty lines, and Holzer has used this rigid format to explore a range of ideologies and views. She questions the viewer’s response by setting fanatical statements against the certainties of common opinion. By masking the author of the essays, Holzer allows the viewer to assess ideologies divorced from the personalities that propel them. She raises questions surrounding social change, the possibility of manipulation of the public, and the conditions that attend revolution. All in all, a very good subject matter for one of the biggest cultural institutions in the world. Just don’t forget to keep one eye on the stairs too.