For Gwangju, 2012/2020
digital video, text from Truisms (1977–9)
Korean translation by Kyunghee Lee
Courtesy of Jenny Holzer Studio
Commissioned for Roundtable, the 9th Gwangju Biennale in 2012, and originally presented on the billboard of the Cultural Center of Seo-gu, For Gwangju features twenty-one phrases selected by Holzer from her famed text series Truisms (1977–9).
Comprising over 250 single-sentence declarations, they were written to resemble existing aphorisms, maxims, and clichés. The series was influenced in part by the reading list provided by Ron Clark at the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Holzer studied in 1977. Each sentence distills difficult and contentious ideas into a seemingly straightforward statement of fact. Privileging no single viewpoint, the Truisms examine the social construction of beliefs, mores, and truths. Arranged in alphabetical order, they were first shown on anonymous street posters pasted throughout downtown Manhattan, and have since appeared on T-shirts, hats, electronic signs, stone floors, and benches.
For Gwangju includes such Truisms as “WHEN SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS PEOPLE WAKE UP,” “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE,” “MOTHERS SHOULDN’T MAKE TOO MANY SACRIFICES,” and “TORTURE IS BARBARIC.” Each one was animated using different visual effects, making this public display especially dynamic and engaging. These particular Truisms were chosen for their resonance with the concerns of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, and for their continued relevance in many places around the world confronted with authoritarianism and state brutality.
Jenny Holzer (b. 1950, New York) has presented her astringent ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions for more than forty years, including at the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, a plaque, or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work. Starting in the 1970s with the New York City posters, and continuing through her recent light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has rivaled ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, and courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award in 1996, and the U.S. State Department’s International Medal of Arts in 2017. She holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College.