"Inflammatory Essays," detail, 1979–82

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Jenny Holzer Inflammatory Essays (series) c. 1982

In a statement provided by the Holzer studio, the Inflammatory Essays (see excerpt below) are described as "a collection of 100-word texts that were printed on colored paper and posted throughout New York City. Like any manifesto, the voice in each essay urges and espouses a strong and particular ideology. By masking the author of the essays, Holzer allows the viewer to assess ideologies divorced from the personalities that propel them. With this series, Holzer invites the reader to consider the urgent necessity of social change, the possibility for manipulation of the public, and the conditions that attend revolution."


Truisms and Inflammatory Essays by Jenny Holzer. American

Inflammatory Essays, Jenny Holzer

What I tried to do, starting with the Truisms and then with the other series, was to hit on as many topics as possible. The truism format was good for this since you can concisely make observations on almost any topic. Increasingly I tried to pick hot topics. With the next series ‘Inflammatory Essays’, I wrote about things that were unmentionable or that were the burning question of the day.


Early in her career, Holzer began to use text to manipulate the language of pop culture. She developed slogans that were appropriated from common colloquialisms. Truisms, a series started in 1977, were constructed deliberately to challenge the viewer to question the blank-faced consumption of stereotypes. Statements such as, "Men are not monogamous by nature," and "Enjoy yourself because you can't change anything anyway" invaded the city in a variety of media, such as posters pasted anonymously within the public sphere, oftentimes alongside works by graffiti legends. Later, she developed texts that were displayed on LED screens and projected onto buildings, transforming the street into a canvas for ideas, and confronting the audience with the status quo.

The Survival Series (started in 1983) is a set of aggressive phrases meant to propel the passive viewer into an act of questioning. Slogans such as, "The beginning of the war will be secret," "The future is stupid," and "Men don't protect you anymore," were printed on stickers that were widely distributed by hand to a common audience meant as a form of propaganda.

In Inflammatory Essays (1979-82), Holzer appropriated texts from major political figures such as Emma Goldman, Mao Tse-Tung , and Vladimir Lenin. Inflammatory Essays were pasted on walls as posters throughout heavily populated areas of the city.

"Women in the City" conceives of contemporary Los Angeles as a site for the recontextualization of Holzer's political language within the social framework of the city because of its developing areas, its unique sprawl and the diverse cultures that inhabit it. To affect the topographical and social landscape both aesthetically and politically, "Women in the City" has taken into consideration the dense layers of ethnicities that reside within the megalopolis. Inflammatory Essays will be dispersed in both English and Spanish throughout all areas of the city in order to appeal to a prominent Latin American demographic. Posters will be placed in storefronts, alongside advertisement billboards and in pedestrian areas. Truisms occupy citywide LED screens, banners, and marquees. Survival Series are distributed as stickers throughout Los Angeles clubs, shops and will also be inserted into the LA Weekly on February 14.Jenny Holzer
20 Inflammatory Essays
1979-82
Set of 20 offset posters on colored paper
Image/paper size: 17 x 17 inches (43.2 x 43.2 cm)
Signed on one sheet, on reverse
(Inventory #26147)