16 08 06

X(+) or: How to write a transform correspondence. in the summer. in the city.

Elisabeth Steger


1. Remember the last  texts you wrote/read, pick up the best ideas, kill the angels in the house, do (self-)citing. Open the window of the room you´ re writing in, smell the air and try to keep the impressions.
2. Visit an exhibition. In case of being not able to make decisions about which exhibition could be the fitting one,  let it solve by someone else.
3. Think about your experiences.  If possible, visit the exhibition again.

X is the woman signed in the last published text. We all know X, but X means that "any woman" is meant  ( a woman who would belong to this illegitimate totality we cannot speak about ) and X  is a variable which is dependent on. She got an existence in language and therefore her bare residency in language was and will now be performed again.
( attention: this text is filled with some allusions, cites. If you will recognize them: she would call you lucky person, but there is nothing to win, she is sorry! ) Leaning out her nose into the air of the 10th district of Vienna she thinks it smells a bit sour but with a cooler note than the blankets of smog at crossings.     

The three parted exhibition titled "XX" shows new works made by Jenny Holzer, at the MAK, in Vienna. It´ s a public dialogue on literature, art and their relationship to politics. She first became aware of the show through a loud poster in the streets of Vienna  ( the posters are one part of the show ) strictly speaking at an advertising pillar, one of these old-fashioned ones named after Mr. Litfaß ( at which the posters are fixed quite good ). "Men don´ t protect you anymore" is the sentence which leaped to her eyes and caught her as a visitor by chance. It` s obviously one single extraordinary message above all that boring things you are confronted visually every day in public spaces. The recycled "truisms" ( Jenny Holzer took 12 pieces of such sayings for the red/blue posters )  are script-pictures: a white typeface with signatory character is all you are asked to decode. Well, she thought, let´ s go the MAK and expand the knowledge about the artists work ( she especially likes a former work of the artist, the "Black Garden", an Anti-memorial in Nordhorn / Germany ).

"Future is stupid". This truism she found bicycling through the city ( while you could go through a truly wide spectrum of different scents - let´ s only mention the special fragrance of the Praterstern-air: she would outline it as a suntan-lotion-of-ordinary-quality-aroma) not far away from the MAK itself: she saw a man in orange ( refuse collection workers have glaring orange work clothes in Vienna ) who was about to hang down some of the XX-posters, to throw it in his mobile rubbish bin, because they had been placard at traffic pillars and these are forbidden places for posters ( as he told her ). She went nearer and started a conversation with the worker, first asked him for the poster in his hands and then whether he is doing this work the whole day. He said no. He is doing it besides his other work. She told him that the posters he is throwing away are sold to the value of 5 € in the MAK design shop, 100 meters away, and moreover that the exhibition is a good exhibition, asked him whether he has already visited it. No, he said and was laughing at her, half amused and half wondering about that behaviour, which he commented as strange and/but friendly ( She knows: often she feels like a moving Xenolith ). He handed over the future-is-stupid-poster and the information that there are a lot more of them around here for free.

Let´ s take the steps into the museum, part two:  It´ s Saturday and therefore the free entrance day of the MAK ( which is the only museum in Vienna with such a day, as far as she knows ). And she wants to emphasize this fact because anybody like X can have a look:  You need neither money  ( as you know: more and more people do not have enough money to spend it for so-called cultural pleasures ) nor a "Kulturpass" ( that´ s a rather new invention in Vienna sounding like a kind of identity card for poor people who want to be part of a culture with conditions they are not able to perform ). "A Kulturpass is not every anybody´ s wish" she is thinking, "We have enough of this Pass-Culture ! We need entrance for free in all museums !"  

Entering the central exhibition hall which is dipped in an ocean of language, she steps into a cave with projections.  4 silver-coloured circular cushions, designed by the artist, are lying on the floor arranged in a square offering a walk cross-wise through it. The present visitors are all lying down on them - the appropriate posture in view of the total space embracing, shattering projection spectacle, where text fragments written by Elfriede Jelinek,  the representative writer of Austria, appear on the walls ?
All the surfaces of/in the room serve as screens. Letters/sentences in a size readable for the most nearsighted people, are wandering from the bottom to the top ( sometimes the l´ s or g´ s of the Helvetica typographic grow to an extent of about 4 meters )  and it looks like these words would loose their meaning at all through their formal growing and distortion. One projection period takes about 90 minutes and it is not easy ( she would say it is quite impossible ) to immerse oneself into the text-ocean.  But there are other ways to handle it:  a little boy is playing with a single O,  has noticed that it´ s possible to step into it with his whole body. He is following this O taking its way on the floor from the main entrance to the opposite side. Arriving at the corner this O leaves the ground jumping over to the vertical wall, deforming into an ellipse and -at that moment of metamorphosis- the boy is happy slapping his hands onto the empty oval O space, turning and running back to the starting point,  to his family waiting for him at the entrance. A funny play with moving language is created.
( Besides, this main entrance is characterized through a fabric in two pieces, not an Iron Curtain but a curtain made out of fine steel ropes, designed by the artist as well. She had to touch and tackle it with her finger tips - a practice of refining her sure instinct. )

The text fragments themselves have been printed on foils and are projected with Xenon light  ( two projectors are on the two opposite walls ) in German and English translation.  The sentences enlighten the architecture, build kind of immaterial skin on it,  which therefore shows its structure. The whole space is filled with an unusual, extraordinary and enjoyable light. Visitors are staying between or among the lines ?

The title of the exhibition opens different ways for interpretation:

1. Jenny Holzer gave the tip, that  the double X could be seen as a signature of the whole work. A signature of somebody ( which is the artist herself ) who did not learn to write and for that reason signs with the famous XX.
2. But the letters are growing really in a XX-large style. As you may know, Jenny Holzer often uses T-Shirts as carrier for her works, so she suggests this is a possible interpretation, too.
3. the title also refers to the projection technology itself: two Xenon projectors are installed, so that we could sum up: X + X = XX
4. maybe it` s an allusion to XX as the chromosome sentence of all women - these totality we cannot speak about ?

The third part of the show is documented by three videos ( For New York City 2004 / For the city 2005 / For Vienna 2006 )  in another spacious room. Similar silvery cushions, smaller and different sized ones are on the floor. It may sound arrogant but it´ s true: there are no comfortable seats at all. But for sure it is better to sit down on cushions than on the pure stone floor or to be forced to stand while watching. And it´ s a quite luxury circumstance to have a darkened and almost empty huge space in a hot and sticky city: a lot of the visitors only pass the room, act like people in the videos, on the street - it is public space in-door.
On the screen she notices slowly moving sentences, texts continuously streaming over the facades of representative buildings ( in Vienna:  the parliament, the national library, the opera ... )  or -as an exception- over a group of trees building a little island between two streets. In doing so the direction of the text flow is always from below to the top of the architecture.  This time the texts parts are token from different authors with different cultural background, dealing with the relevant themes ( politics, art, city etc. )
She thinks there are three possible ways to look at the videos ( which of course depend on the video-pictures itself - whether they are close-ups or not )

1. You try to follow the text in its sense, which is not that easy: the reading speed is prescribed and, much more disturbing the encoding,  a lot of the texts are distorted through the architectural structure which is not as smooth as an usual screen.
2. if you concentrate on looking to the facade fragments which are enlightened by the projections, you will be able to see details in a new light or for the first time at all
3. you try to develop or discover new perspectives: she, for example, got an impression that the Viennese parliament is counteracting to the texts which are moving up: the parliament ( the video-parliament ) seems sinking into the ground, vanishing from the earth.

She is tempted to interpret this play- situation in the museum ( a thinking woman watching a child` s  play with some interest ) as a tableau vivant in her head, referring to those allegorical pictures of melancholy painted in the renaissance.
She is looking up in the book "Saturn and melancholy", reading again the chapter "The problem XXX" (  a text which is ascribed to Aristoteles and describing the "natural talent" of melancholy at the times of  the classical antiquity ), feeling a ( maybe ) naive joy about this coincidences of X´ s and decides playing too - an acteur/author play on the basis of all these X´ s.  The second XX-visit amplifies her plans: again a child - this time it is a girl - is playing with the light signs on the walls. The girl is wearing a T-Shirt ( with the imprint:  secrete girl, security services, X-tra sexy! ) and a transparent bag, showing all her toys inside. Let´ s see what will happen on next Saturday.

Elisabeth Steger