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Jenny Holzer: Conceptual Artist

Jenny Holzer is an artist whose work has featured around the world, from electronic displays in Times Square in New York City, Wembley Stadium and Piccadilly Circus in London, to carvings on a rock high in the mountains of Switzerland, to projections of phrases onto a riverbank in Italy, to public gardens in Germany, and to art installations in Norway, Japan and elsewhere.

Born in Ohio in the USA, Holzer studied liberal arts at Duke University in North Carolina, then transferred to the University of Chicago. Moving again to Ohio University in Athens, she studied painting and print-making and graduated with a degree in fine arts. Subsequently, Jenny attended Rhode Island School of Design to further study painting, and then successfully applied to the Whitney Independent Study programme at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Themes of her art

Holzer's work revolves around her favourite subjects: 'sex, war, and death.' She predominantly works with language in her installations, and often refers to the words in her work as 'disembodied', and written to convey the voices and perspectives of multiple people.

In 1977 she anonymously pasted posters onto walls on the streets of Lower Manhattan in New York with thirty or forty of her 'Truisms' printed on them. It is these Truisms that are often printed, projected, carved, or displayed on electronic signs around the world. Some examples that made their way onto theatre signs and electronic notices in New York and London respectively are:

Expiring for love is beautiful but stupid

Myths make reality more intelligible

Grass roots agitation is the only hope

You are guileless in your dreams

Sloppy thinking gets worse over time

Everyone's work is equally important

Hiding your motives is despicable

Deviants are sacrificed to increase group solidarity

As a body of work, the 'Truisms' express multiple points of view. The initial project lasted two years, and was followed in 1979 by more flyposting in the form of 'Inflammatory Essays'. Paper posters were again used, brightly coloured with the text typed in capitals throughout, each with exactly one hundred words arranged in twenty lines. A change of poster colour announced the appearance of a new text. 'Inflammatory Essays' continued until 1982, whereupon a change of media ensued: Holzer used her first electronic sign for her 'Survival' project.

In an interview, Jenny explained an early source of her inspiration:

"This probably sounds fake, but I did like that Times Square sign that had war news on it, that I'd seen in old news reels re-broadcast on TV in Ohio. It had reports from the front. ... My 'dream sign' of childhood was the text-only Times Square 'zipper'."

By 1986 the materials had progressed again to rock carving. The subject matter was 'unpleasant topics - things that crawled out from under a rock'. More work followed, further exploring Jenny's favourite themes: 'Laments', 'War', 'Lustmord', and more. Perhaps because of her work on these topics, Holzer was commissioned to do several memorials, including a peace monument in Erlauf, Austria. Even her writing for 'Mother and Child' is dark.

Jenny Holzer's birth chart

Jenny Holzer's time of birth is unavailable so her Ascendant and house cusps have been omitted from the chart wheel below. Her Moon is definitely in Aquarius, although we cannot be certain of all its aspects, and so will not discuss them in this article.

Jenny Holzer's birth chart

Looking at the birth chart of an artist, the titles, topics and timings of their work can be seen. The main features of Holzer's signature works can be correlated with her chart, and the importance of using septiles in chart interpretations will also be made clear.

Articulating emotion

In Jenny's chart 'disembodied' is a classic Moon in Aquarius experience, where the person is frequently quite detached and very uncomfortable with physicality and emotion - feelings are filtered through the mind and the mouth and are expressed very articulately but not really felt or accepted; there is always a remoteness, aloofness, and reservation which can be quite chilling.

The heat of language

The 'Inflammatory Essays' material suggests the extremely fiery and intense Mercury conjunct Pluto in Leo and in aspect to Mars. This combines Mercury's association with language and communication, with Leo's solar flames, Pluto's burning heat, and Mars's red fire. The 'Truisms' work, as blunt, bald, statements of sometimes uncomfortable 'facts' also evokes this combination, but there are also a couple of Jupiter involvements.

Truth - personal and universal

Firstly, Jupiter is in trine to Uranus, which is about the best encapsulation of the concept of 'Truisms' that you can get, as both these planets are associated with the search for truth and knowledge, as well as carrying the flip-side of 'this is my truth but I will assert it as universal'. This aspect also correlates with the 'multiple voices' feature of Jenny's work, where various perspectives are expressed through the writing.

Reality sound-bites

Secondly, Jupiter on the Mercury/Saturn midpoint can also be seen here: Jupiter is publishing, broadcasting and proselytising, and Mercury/Saturn is 'cold harsh statements of fact' and the 'reality check' nature of the messages.

Inspiring words

Jenny's initial focus was on painting and print-making, however the lure of linguistic art is shown by Mercury being in septile to Neptune. As mentioned above, Mercury is language and communication, and both the septile aspect and Neptune represent inspiration, creative fantasy, myth-making, and that which appeals and draws one in. This aspect also shows her capacity to inspire and appeal to other people through using words (Mercury) in art (Neptune).

Society's treament of women

Venus conjunct Uranus is a signature of provocative and socio-political artistic expression. It is also another indication of being drawn to the transmission of messages as a way of connecting with people, and of being concerned about the treatment of women in society (the conjunction is in Cancer, which confirms this interpretation). This, and the Moon in Aquarius, is related to Jenny's 'Mother and Child' work.

Dream sign

As quoted earlier, the electronic message display board in Times Square, New York City, was an early source of inspiration for Holzer. This news board was nicknamed the 'zipper' or 'ticker', and carried war news. It is interesting that Jenny was not only inspired by the electronic messages, but that she has gone on to place war at the centre of much of her work. Comparing the chart for the Times Square zipper with Jenny's chart, we find that the zipper's Neptune (inspiration, art) was exactly half-way between Jenny's Venus (art) and Mars (war). Importantly, it was also in septile aspect to those planets, indicating a powerful inspirational quality. There are many other aspects between the two charts, but this is the most significant one. Space precludes mentioning all but one other: the zipper's Mercury (words, news) is sextile Jenny's Mercury. How perfect!

Transits for 1977-9

In keeping with the importance of Mercury in her artwork, Jenny's launching of 'Truisms', 'Inflammatory Essays', and 'Survival' coincided with transits to her Mercury-Mars-Neptune configuration. For 1977 it was Saturn conjoining Mercury, for 1979 it was Pluto between the Mars-Neptune conjunction, and for 1982 when the 'Survival' work was in production it was Saturn between the Mars-Neptune conjunction. There were, of course, other transits during these times, however the repetition of the Mercury-Mars-Neptune trio stands out.

Another stand-out transit worth mentioning is that it was the 'Truisms' and 'Inflammatory Essays' work that established Jenny Holzer as an artist who had arrived. These works were placed in the public domain as Saturn returned to the place it was in on the day she was born, known as the Saturn Return. During a Saturn Return period a person often finds their footing and begins to manifest their life's work, and so it was.

This article was written and published on 24th September 2005

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