TRUISMS, A HAPPENING (after Jenny Holzer)
The statements that were plastered around campus on the morning of Friday, November 14th were answers that students had written to the question: “What is something that you understand to be true?” The night before, 30 students had replied to an announce email inviting them to a discussion and activity surrounding public art and truth. In this meeting, we contextualized the project through the work of other contemporary artists and eventually asked people to contemplate the question and to answer individually. The students were told that their words would be placed in a public space the next day. Collectively, the students generated 120 statements, or truisms. Some statements of personal truth were funny, some were heart-breaking, some were harsh, some were optimistic. Each statement was inherently individual yet the manner in which we decided to present them was without a name or context, each sheet of paper standardized to remove all traces of character except for the content, which spoke loudly for itself.
The question arose out of a desire to recreate artist Jenny Holzer’s iconic Truisms (1977), where she posted anonymous provocative statements in different mediums all around New York City. These statements ranged from “private property created crime” to “it is in your self interest to find a way to be very tender” and reflected her desire to engage passerbys and shock them into contemplation. We used this model because of its ability to radicalize public space in a simple and anonymous way.
The instructions we gave each participant were: 1) Answer the question, 2) Post the answer in a public space and 3) Document it. In a group we posted the typed statements the next morning, on trees and the sides of buildings, and documented each poster in its context with a disposable camera. This was an important component of the project because we were accepting that once we put up the posters people might rip them down or remove them, and we wanted a record. (Out of the 120 pictures we took, only 94 images came out when developed.) The instructions we gave were modeled after a Happening, an innovative form of conceptual art developed by Allan Kaprow in the 1960s. A happening, as a unique participatory event, was defined as art yet it rendered almost indistinguishable the separation between art and everyday life. These events had very explicit directions anyone could follow and therefore anyone could participate in the art. The value of these happenings, besides being interesting and spontaneous, was community engagement. Random people were brought together to complete a project in unison and to value a fleeting moment that would never happen the same way again. We thought this was a valuable model because of the way in which it organized a community to create art in a manner that mimicked everyday life.
We believe that these statements generated from the community created a compelling source of inspiration and conversation, for as long they remained posted. Some posters were torn off of doors, some were blown away by the wind and picked up (and recycled), some were ripped off and saved in pockets, and some still remained days later, providing brief glimpses into the mind of a fellow student or reminding us of how similar our internal truths can be.
– Michela Moscufo and Olivia Gregorius
AVC Contemporary Art 283
Sponsored by: Arts Collaborative, The Bates Review, Bates Arts Society and Multifaith Chaplaincy