Review /

Jenny Holzer Hauser & Wirth / Zurich

A seven-meter-long, three-paneled LED bar protrudes from a hole in the wall, violently jutting in and out, repeatedly, so that it appears to batter a group of bones, skulls and teeth that are haphazardly piled. Nearby, a similar form swings like a pendulum from a robotic arm, surrounded by a semicircular arc of bones that have been individually laid out with care. Both rods are emblazoned with barely legible, rapidly scrolling texts that speak of war, death, disappearance and torture: advertising boards conveying tales of cruelty with a speed that suggests superfluity. Titled RAM(2016) and MOVE (2015) respectively, these point to a world where conflict and commercialism sit side by side, the latter ostensibly ignoring humanitarian atrocity inorder to continue functioning.

A number of new paintings from Holzer’s Redaction series, which integrate declassified but severely edited source material from US state and military papers, are also on display. Depicted in oil on linen, chunks of text are purposefully obscured by overlaid geometric shapes that recall the Russian Constructivist paintings of Alexander Rodchenko: in PROS: CONS: (2017), black, yellow, green and red quadrilaterals form a stack that tilts on a diagonal axis, the pale grey words “PROS”and “CONS” being the only signifiers that confidential details have been tactically covered. Other works, such as President’s Surveillance Program (2017), are installed at a high vantage point and spot lit so that title and placement combine to symbolically suggest the NSA and GCHQ spy program that was exposed by Edward Snowden.

Holzer’s subject is our complex contemporary sociopolitical climate: the unfulfilled promise of revolutionary change and the status quo of government impunity. Though visually striking, the agency of her work is somewhat negated by the exhibition’s erasure of language; sometimes silence says it all, but here, we are left without a resonant message beyond the negligence of capitalism, which is a problematic proposition to define within the walls of a contemporary art gallery and under the art market’s watchful eye.

by Louisa Elderton