Inflammatory Essays, by Jenny Holzer, 1979–81

Jenny Holzer, Artist
Inflammatory Essays , 1979–81

Dimensions variable
Credit Line
Courtesy of the artist. Image © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Jenny Holzer uses language to interrogate the effects of rhetoric, engaging viewers in fundamental questions such as "Who is speaking?" "Where does this text come from?" and "What does it mean?" Yet her texts—whether directives, confessions, or observations—elide authorial intentionality and unlock a sort of societal subconscious, from which bits of ideology, desire, fear, humor, and hatred pour forth. Holzer has authored dozens of textual series that—while distinct in personality, tone, and subject—often resurface in various material forms over time. Originally presented anonymously on the streets of New York City, the mass-produced short texts that make up Inflammatory Essays cover a variety of subjects that have been ongoing concerns throughout Holzer's career, including power, social control, abuse, consumption, and sex. Declarative and forceful in tone, they embody her distinctively crafted voice, one that is omniscient, detached, and yet enraged, shifting between multiple identities.