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Jenny Holzerā€™s War Paintings at the Venice Biennale 2015

Written by Dea Schou, Ph.D. Candidate at Department for the study of Culture

 These days the American conceptualist artist Jenny Holzer shows an exhibition at the Venice Biennale in Museo Correr called ”War Paintings” which critically and aesthetically investigates the Global War on Terror. Holzer is known for discussing the roles of language and narrative in our society, and in “War Paintings” she questions the rhetoric and evidence material for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by using government documents as a source for her work.

   Jenny Holzer, Terrorist Group, 2013, Oil on linen, 203,2 x 157,5 cm.

Jenny Holzer, Terrorist Group, 2013, Oil on linen, 203,2 x 157,5 cm.

Jenny Holzer, Terrorist Group, 2013, Oil on linen, 203,2 x 157,5 cm.

The artworks exhibited in “War Paintings” form a mixture of image and text where Holzer paints over and adapts declassified U.S. governmental and military documents from the war on terror such as memos, planning maps, interrogation records, autopsy reports and handwritten texts from the prisoners. The war documents are then enlarged and transformed into silk-screens and oil paintings on linen.

The documents were heavily redacted before the U.S. government released them, and Holzer underlines the theme of censorship for example by erasing large areas in the paintings with geometrical squares as in the painting Terrorist Group. In this painting, there is a formal clash between the organic forms of the terrorist cells and the geometrical black square that has been put onto it, which may allude to the problems of fighting a war against something as fluid, unstable and evanescent as terrorism with the Western world’s more rational (black and white) war machinery and imaginaries.

Many of the paintings and silk-screens are blurry white, black and greyish tones, and these opaque colors and structures in the pictures may point to the core of the problematics surrounding the war on terror, namely the obscured intentions and motivations for the war and the secret and concealed public information.

The exhibition forms part of the Venice Biennale and is open until 22th of November 2015.

Read more about the exhibition here.