Jenny Holzer’s first public works, Truisms (1977–1979), seem to have been presaging contemporary Internet chatter, where tweets are restricted to 140 characters and sometimes the most complimented updates are those that are short but sweet. Her statements are attentive to both form and content, appearing poetic and digestible yet urgent and homiletic. They have been inscribed, projected, etched, electrically powered, carved, cast, screen-printed, and painted. The fluidity in her manipulation of physical mediums inverts the evolving landscape of public messaging by appropriating corporate, governmental, and advertising techniques to reveal contentious issues of the time. As information displays change, she is able to subsume and then imbue them with her take to irritate our environments dominated by impersonal text.
Holzer’s works range from the tangible (paper, marble) to the dynamic (billboard signs, LED columns) to the interactive. Although most of her work is static in its content, thus preserving its authoritative and authorless voice, she also delves in web based work. Her Twitter account currently has 53,000 followers, enabling others to retweet and thereby emphasize her Truisms. A lesser known work exists in Ada’web, an online art gallery acquired by the Walker in 1998. Titled Please Change Beliefs (1995), people enter the website with a single Truism presented to them, able to constantly click through to get another one. This predicted the proliferation of single-serving, aggregated, generative websites such as What The Fuck Should I Make For Dinner, This Is Less Of A, or even what would i say?.
However, what makes Please Change Beliefs unique is the ability for visitors to “improve or replace the truism.” These user-generated truisms then become part of the artwork, which inevitably looks like an anonymous Facebook account with a lot of caps-locked status updates. However, these posts are often not created arbitrarily—most truisms are “improved” instead of “replaced,” and since they are indexed alphabetically, a pattern starts to emerge: the verb and object in the statement is usually changed, whereas the subject stays the same. And in that very way, this work emphasizes that the public and its displays is undeniably tied with the nous of our subjectivity.