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Henri Cole on Jenny Holzer


The poet Henri Cole writes elegantly about Jenny Holzer and her use of light and text. Holzer has used Cole’s poetry in her own works, including a piece that was projected upon the police headquarters in Venice in 2003. Read Cole below in excerpt on this work, or in full via the New Yorker.

I first met Holzer at the American Academy in Berlin, where we were fellows in 2000. Often we talked about our work during long walks. A few years later, in Venice, she projected, with her xenon light, the text of my love poem “Blur,” a sonnet sequence, onto the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda (currently housing the police headquarters). This was a building Venetians feared during the Second World War, so it was scary, and meaningful, and brave of her to scroll my erotic poem across its face.

Seeing my poems projected in this way, onto landscapes and buildings, I feel that the words leap out from a different zone, where they are observed as much as read. Language is more direct, open, unself-conscious, precise, and human. It doesn’t belong to me anymore but to the atmosphere, and this makes me happy.

In Holzer’s installations, words—not images—strive to say something true, often about love, death, sex, war, or forgiveness. Sometimes, it is something unspeakable. There is no boundary between the human and the mechanical in Holzer’s work, and this is my favorite part. Because Holzer now thinks of herself mostly as a reader, rather than a writer, she is happiest reimagining space with light, color, and form suffusing it, while a powerful beam is projecting poetry into the night—poetry with all its paradoxes, ironies, contradictions, understatements, and devastating truths.

*Image: “Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim,” by Jenny Holzer, featuring “Blur,” from “Middle Earth,” by Henri Cole. Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda, Venice, Italy, 2003.