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MAINLINING POSTMODERNISM:
JENNY HOLZER, BARBARA KRUGER, AND THE ART OF INTERVENTION

by

WALTER KALAIDJIAN
Dept. of English
St. Cloud State University
<wkal...@TIGGER.STCLOUD.MSUS.EDU>

_Postmodern Culture_ v.2 n.3 (May, 1992)

Copyright (c) 1992 by Walter Kalaidjian, all rights
reserved. This text may be freely shared among
individuals, but it may not be republished in any
medium without express written consent from the author
and advance notification of the editors.

[1] Midway through the Reagan era, the crossing of the
Great Depression's communal aesthetics and the contemporary
avant-gardes was theorized from the conservative right as a
stigma of neo-Stalinism. In "Turning Back the Clock: Art
and Politics in 1984," Hilton Kramer, the ideologue of
painterly formalism, sought to discredit a number of gallery
exhibitions mounted in resistance to the rapid
gentrification of the New York art market. Not
coincidentally, these oppositional shows culminated in a
year charged with the political subtext of George Orwell's
_1984_. Reviving Orwell's critique of the totalitarian
state, the New Museum of Contemporary Art launched two
exhibitions entitled "The End of the World: Contemporary
Visions of Apocalypse" and "Art and Ideology." Meanwhile,
the Edith C. Blum Art Institute of Bard College hosted a
similar show whose theme, "Art as Social Conscience,"
reinforced the New Museum initiatives. In addition to
showings on the themes of "Women and Politics" at the Intar
Latin American Gallery and "Dreams and Nightmares: Utopian
Visions in Modern Art" at the Hirshhorn Museum in
Washington, D.C., both the Graduate Center of the City of
University of New York and a network of private galleries
affiliated with "Artists Call Against US Intervention in
Central America" featured works that reflected on American
imperialism in the Third World.
[2] Reacting against these progressive showings, Kramer
appealed to ideal canons of aesthetic "quality" in order to
malign the politicized representations of "Artists Call."
Kramer's thesis held that art had somehow evolved, in the
Age of Reagan, beyond ideology: that any explicit political
allusion marked a work as a throwback to a now outdated
cultural moment. But not satisfied with simply dismissing
these shows as a mere recycling of some harmless and
nostalgic version of 1960s leftism, Kramer tried to revive a
more menacing specter that had expired three decades earlier
with the scandal of McCarthyism, Red-Baiting, and Cold War
paranoia that reigned over the 1950s. Tying the emergent
socioaesthetic critique of the 1980s to the "radicalism" of
the 1930s, Kramer anathematized "social consciousness" as
serving a "Stalinist ethos."^1^ Through this historical
framing, Kramer sought to reinstate the repression of
Depression era populism during the 1940s and 1950s: a period
which, in his reading, "marked a great turning point not
only in the history of American art but in the life of the
American imagination" (72).
[3] Like his formalist mentor Clement Greenberg, Kramer
sought to displace partisan art works under the guise of
disciplinary purity: that as Greenberg claimed "the essence
of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the
characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the
discipline itself--not in order to subvert it, but to
entrench it more firmly in its area of competence."^2^
Tellingly, in Kramer's heavy-handed, ad hominem assaults on
such critics and curators as Benjamin H. D. Buchloch and
Donald Kuspit, the campaign for a "neutral zone" of artistic
purity--wrapped as it is in the neo-Kantian mantle of
disinterested aesthetic judgment--proved a reactionary
ideological program: one that, in the name of intrinsic
formalism, aimed to repress social representation %tout
court%. Lodged against the postmodern recovery of
interbellum populism, Kramer's appeal to the seemingly
"apolitical" zone of modernist experimentation--to an ideal
canon of formal innovation--"turned back the clock" to the
eve of the Cold War: rehearsing, in a reductive version,
Clement Greenberg's 1939 campaign for aesthetic autonomy as
a counter to American kitsch culture and Soviet socialist
realism.^3^
[4] The contempt with which Greenberg greeted popular
culture and its mass audience reflected symptomatically his
historical situation--which, in 1939, he anxiously viewed as
imperiled by the triple threat of Nazism, Stalinism, and
Americanism. The epochal shifts in technological
reproduction, and collective systems of design, packaging,
and distribution that now delivered art to the masses--that
made every reader a virtual writer, every viewer a potential
auteur, and every audiophile a nascent composer--threatened,
in Greenberg's reading, all semblance of hierarchy,
distinction, and taste without which it was impossible to
salvage canonicity. Moreover he regarded the
democratization of cultural expression as a volatile formula
for social unrest: "Everyman, from the Tammany alderman to
the Austrian house-painter," Greenberg warned, "finds that
he is entitled to his opinion. . . . Here revolvers and
torches begin to be mentioned in the same breath as culture.
In the name of godliness or the blood's health, in the name
of simple ways and solid virtues, the statue-smashing
commences."^4^
[5] Not coincidentally, Walter Benjamin had theorized the
same symptoms of mass participation in the shaping of
cultural modernism. Unlike Greenberg, however, Benjamin
articulated them to new aesthetic tendencies that--divorced
from the cult of individual genius, the canon, disciplinary
autonomy, aesthetic purity, and so on--nevertheless did not
reduce cultural production to the vulgar display of
monumental socialist realism, fascist agitprop, or kitsch
consumerism.^5^ While Greenberg eschewed the spectacle of
mass communication, Benjamin proposed a materialist
intervention into consumer culture by reversing art's
traditional social function, which "instead of being based
on ritual . . . begins to be based on another practice--
politics" (WMP, 224). Against fascism's "introduction of
aesthetics into political life" (241)--its auraticization of
politics, nationalism, and mass spectacle--he campaigned for
a counter-strategy of "politicizing art" as critique.
Revolutionary art must not only pursue progressive
tendencies in form and content, Benjamin insisted, but
should effect what Brecht theorized as a broader "functional
transformation" (%Umfunktionierung%) of the institutional
limits, sites, and modes of production that shape cultural
practices in the expanded social field.^6^
[6] Benjamin's intervention in the reception of the avant-
gardes, while surpassing the cloistral elitism of
Greenberg's retreat from popular culture, nevertheless comes
up against its own historical limits, particularly so in its
allegiance to the classist and productivist ideologies of
the 1930s. Benjamin's proletcult credo--that "the author as
producer discovers . . . his solidarity with the
proletariat" (AP, 230)--is marked by the %coupure% severing
the modern from postmodern epochs. The myth of an imminent
proletarian revolution, that energized a range of utopian
aesthetic projects throughout the interbellum decades,
remains one of the definitive hallmarks of modernist
culture. The unfolding of postwar history through the
present has increasingly discredited the orthodox marxist
faith in the working class as the front line in the
collective appropriation of capital's new industrial and
technological forces of production. Instead, the
instrumental rationality shaping the productive apparatus
intensified the labor process at once to the benefit of
management and the detriment of labor. The new wave of
computerization, containerization, and robotics in the 1960s
did not so much ease as intensify the labor process. Such
high tech advances, for the most part, stepped up the
proletarianization and deskilling of workers, displacing
them from lucrative, unionized jobs in the steel,
automobile, and transportation industries into non-unionized
and often temporary service positions.^7^
[7] Throughout the 1950s, as Ernest Mandel and more
recently Fredric Jameson have observed, the sudden reserve
of technological innovation in electronics, communication,
and systems analysis and management--conceived during the
war years and then coupled with accumulated resources of
surplus wealth--allowed capital to penetrate new markets
through a constant turnover not only of new services and
commodity forms but of hitherto undreamt of sources of
fabricated consumer needs and desires. This transition from
a pre- to postwar economy challenged capital at once to
deterritorialize its modern limits in the industrial
workplace and to reterritorialize the entire fabric of
everyday life for consumption.^8^ One symptom of this
paradigm shift was the fragmentation of the working class
community that--dwelling in the political and
phenomenological spaces of extended social solidarity (the
union hall, the local factory tavern, fraternal clubs, and
so on)--was radically decentered and dispersed along the new
superhighways out into the netherworld of suburban America.
[8] In the post-Depression era, traditionally urban,
ethnic, and working class neighborhoods--like those, say, of
the ante-Fort Apache decades of the South Bronx--fell victim
to the new generation of such metropolitan planners as
Robert Moses.^9^ The tremendous drive to accommodate the
ever more expansive and mobile traffic in consumer goods and
services cut through the heart of the 'hood, leaving behind,
in Marshall Berman's telling impressions of the Long Island
Expressway, "monoliths of steel and cement, devoid of vision
or nuance or play, sealed off from the surrounding city by
great moats of stark empty space, stamped on the landscape
with a ferocious contempt for all natural and human
life."^10^ Along these clotted arteries and by-passes,
American workers were fleeing the decaying precincts of the
modern city, seduced by the new suburban vision whose
prototype mushroomed from a 1,500-acre Long Island potato
farm bought-out by William J. Levitt in 1949. The first
community to apply the logic of Fordism to home
construction, Levittown overnight threw up some 17,500
virtually identical prefabricated four-room houses, followed
by centrally designed plans for Levittown II an eight square
mile suburb on the Delaware River.^11^
[9] Ever more cloistered and privatized within such serial
neighborhoods of single family track houses, working class
America succumbed little by little to the postmodern regime
of the commodity form. No longer limited to accumulating
surplus value from its modern settings of industrial
production--the factory, textile mill, powerplant,
construction site, or agribusiness combine--capital now
seized on the frontier markets of consumption: the mall, the
road strip, the nuclear household, the body, the
unconscious--with ever new generations of consumer items,
electrical appliances, gadgetry of all kinds, prepackaged
foods, gas and restaurant franchises, accelerating rhythms
of style, fashion, and popular trends in music, teen
culture, and suburban living. Here, the cement and steel
hardscapes of the older urban environment were supplanted by
the high-end, chi-chi-frou-frou softscapes of such
mushrooming "edge cities" as Schaumburg, Illinois; Atlanta's
Perimeter Center; California's Silicon Valley and Orange
County; and the Washington D.C. beltway.^12^
[10] As Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, and the Situationists
had argued, the ideology of consumerism--now reproduced
throughout the omnipresent spectacle of advertising,
selling, and purchasing of new goods, services, products,
and cultural styles--came to dominate the total makeup of
everyday life, eroding the older working class values of
industrious productivity, active creativity, and proletarian
solidarity--replacing them with the ideals of consumption,
possessive individualism, and upward class mobility. One
symptom of this shift into the postmodern register of
spectacular consumerism was what Lefebvre described as "the
enormous amount of signifiers liberated or insufficiently
connected to their corresponding signifieds (words,
gestures, images and signs), and thus made available to
advertising and propaganda."^13^ Suddenly the world's
entire semiotic fabric, from the sprawling lay-out of the
suburban town to a commercial's most intimate proxemic code,
was now readable (and thus susceptible to reinscription) in
ways that articulated everyday life to the discourse of
advertising, publicity, and spectacular display. Yet within
what Lefebvre described as the "bureaucratic society of
controlled consumption" it was capital that exploited the
powers of textual representation to maintain a constant
obsolescence of needs as such, paradoxically, within a fixed
framework of institutional durability. The task was to
balance the necessity for a fast-paced turnover of cultural
forms and trends in the consumer market in contradiction
with the class strategy of preserving permanence, stability,
and hierarchy amidst rapid cultural change. It is this
double strategy that, for Lefebvre, underwrites and
constantly renegotiates consumer society's spectacular
promotion.
[11] Supplementing Lefebvre, Baudrillard has, of course,
more radically deconstructed marxism's traditional margin
that separates commodity and sign, theorizing both as
mutually traversed by a "homological structure" of
exchange.^14^ In Baudrillard's descriptive account of
postmodern simulation, the McLuhanesque slogan that the
"medium is the message" reaches an estranging, postmodern
limit where the medium of telecommunication infiltrates,
mimics, mutates, and finally exterminates the Real like a
virus or genetic code, in what Baudrillard describes as a
global, "satellization of the real."^15^ Not
insignificantly, with the death of the referent, the social
contract and political institutions conceived out of the
universalist ideals the Enlightenment are likewise thrown
into jeopardy. Against the orthodoxy of the Old Left, the
spectacle of postmodernism, for Baudrillard, positions mass
society not so much as a valorized political agent but more
as a passive medium or conductor for the cultural simulation
of every representable social need, libidinal desire,
political interest, or popular opinion.^16^
[12] Relentlessly polled, solicited, and instructed by the
print, television, and video media--whose corporate
advertising budgets dwarf those of public and private
education--the masses, in Baudrillard's descriptive account,
are absorbed into a wholly commodified habitus. The revenge
of mass society, however, is expressed, for Baudrillard, as
the sheer inertia of its silent majority: its tendency to
consume in excess any message, code, or sign that is
broadcast its way. No longer the figure for the proletarian
class, a people, a citizenry, or any stable political
constituency, the masses now mark the abysmal site of the
radical equivalence of all value--a density that simply
implodes, in one of Baudrillard's astrophysical metaphors,
like a collapsing star, drawing into itself "all radiation
from the outlying constellations of State, History, Culture,
Meaning."^17^ When simulation has overrun the political
sphere, tactics of stepping up the exchange and consumption
of goods, services, information flows, and new
technologies--the whole hyperreal economy of postmodern
potlatch--serve to debunk any vestiges of use value,
rationality, or authenticity legitimating affirmative
bourgeois culture.
[13] More politically engaged, perhaps, than this rather
pessimistic take on postmodern simulation is the kind of
specific tactics of aesthetic resistance, critique, and
intervention that, given his totalizing account, Baudrillard
is driven to reject as hopelessly utopian. Beyond the scant
attention that Baudrillard has devoted to subcultural
resistance, theorists such as Michel de Certeau, Stuart
Hall, Rosalind Brunt, Dick Hebdige, and the New Times
collective have offered more nuanced studies of
micropolitical praxes of subversion.^18^ Such theoretical
approaches to a postmodern politics of consumption have
considered the multiple ways in which particular groups and
individuals not merely consume but rearticulate to their own
political agendas dominant signs taken, say, from the
discourses of advertising, fashion, television, contemporary
music, and pop culture in general.
[14] Beyond content analyses, explications, or close
readings of various textual praxes, a more productive
approach to the micropolitics of postmodern resistance
examines what audiences, viewers, readers, and shoppers
produce with the texts, artifacts, and commodity forms they
consume.^19^ What looks like a spectacle of passive
consumerism actually yields a multiplicity of "tactics,"
options, and occasions for actively negotiating what Michel
Foucault would describe as a "microphysics of power."
Advancing Foucault's theory of disciplinary and
institutional surveillance, de Certeau draws a cogent
distinction between the established hegemonic regimes (or
strategies) of power and the marginal and subaltern tactics
of oppositional contestation and subversion that traverse
them.^20^ The reproduction of consumerism, of course,
relies on certain well-established strategies of
representation that map the social field into a coded space
of commodity exchange. The discourse of advertising, in
particular--with its notorious manipulation of image and
text--stands out as a ripe medium for the tactical
subversion of dominant slogans and stereotypes.
[15] Throughout the 1970s and 1980s one specific site for
exposing and interrupting the popular media's reproduction
of consumer society has been its sexist inscription of
gender. Responding to the spectacle of postmodernism,
critical artists like Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Hans
Haacke have adopted tactics of quotation, citation, and
appropriation that were pioneered some five decades earlier
in Benjamin's examination of international Dada and the
Russian futurists in such essays as "The Work of Art in the
Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and "The Artist as
Producer."^21^ The challenge that Benjamin laid down was
for every author to become a producer, every artist a
theorist, in the general remapping of generic boundaries,
aesthetic traditions, and cultural conventions that the age
demanded. Not incidentally, in photography this political
requisite entailed a subversion of "the barrier between
writing and image. What we require of the photographer,"
Benjamin insisted, "is the ability to give his picture the
caption that wrenches it from modish commerce and gives it a
revolutionary useful value" (AP 230). In thus linking
photographic activity to language and signification,
Benjamin's critique of photographic mimesis looks forward to
Roland Barthes' postwar argument that "the conventions of
photography . . . are themselves replete with signs."^22^
In the age of mass communication, as Barthes would go on to
argue in the 1960s, every pictorial form is always already a
linguistic text.^23^
[16] Barthes' sophisticated, textual analysis of the
photographic image, tied as it is to Benjamin's avant-garde
concern for art's functional transformation of its enabling
cultural apparatus, provides a theoretical vantage point for
reading contemporary feminist interventions in the
contemporary media, such as those, say, of Barbara Kruger.
A one-time designer for Conde Nast during the 1970s, Kruger
was thoroughly disciplined in the craft of commercial media
design, whose graphic techniques, discursive codes, and
semiotic protocols she appropriated in the 1980s for
tactical reinscriptions of sexist, racist, and classist
representations in the popular media. While her plates and
posters have the look and feel of slick ads, the politics
they inscribe cut across the grain of consumerist ideology.
Indeed, her images often allude to the general violence,
oppression, and humiliation entailed in the cultural logic
of unequal exchange fostered under advanced capitalism. But
equally important, her collages are frequently articulated
to various micropolitical agendas as in her participation in
exhibitions like the _Disarming Images: Art for Nuclear
Disarmament_ (1984-86) show sponsored by Bread and Roses,
the cultural organ of the National Union of Hospital and
Health Care Employees, AFL-CIO. She also collaborates in
any number of direct political actions, such as, say, her
poster "Your Body is a Battleground" advertising the 1989
March on Washington in support of Roe v. Wade.
[17] Shaping such street level praxes, Kruger's formal
tactic is to open up the precoded space of the advertising
sign--what de Certeau would call its strategy--to unreadable
gaps, contradictions, accusations, and dire judgments that
interrupt our conventional responses and habits of
consumption. The dominant coding of gender in the mass
media--its repertoire of body language, facial expressions,
styles of dress, and so on--positions the sexes
differentially to reproduce a semiotics of patriarchal
privilege, expertise, and authority, on the one hand, and
feminine passivity, sexual ingratiation, and
infantilization, on the other. Such commercial photographs,
as Erving Goffman's seminal study _Gender Advertisements_
(1979) has argued, broadcast a posed "hyper-ritualization"
of social situations, whose images are, more often than not,
calculated to oppress women in subordinate roles to equally
idealized male counterparts.^24^ Much of Kruger's
photographic appropriation of ad imagery and media slogans
undermines and repudiates the sexist, semiotic economy of
capitalist patriarchy. For example, the deployment of
personal pronouns, typically used to solicit the reader's
investment in ad texts, serves in Kruger's hands to heighten
sexual antagonisms, as in "We won't play nature to your
culture." Here Kruger repudiates the dead letter of
patriarchal stereotyping that, as Simone de Beauvoir
theorized, reduces women's place to that of passive "Other":
projected outside male civil order as nature, the
unconscious, the exotic, what is either forbidden or
taboo.^25^
[18] Appropriating the glossy look of postmodern
advertising--whose specular, imaginary form solicits from
the viewer a certain narcissism, a certain scopophilia--
Kruger rebuffs the valorized male reader, anathematizing
this subject position with uncompromising, feminist refusals
and such arresting judgments as:
You thrive on mistaken identity.
Your devotion has the look of a lunatic sport.
You molest from afar.
You destroy what you think is difference.
I am your reservoir of poses.
I am your immaculate conception.
I will not become what I mean to you.
We won't play nature to your culture.
We refuse to be your favorite embarrassments.
Keep us at a distance.
While advertising exploits such "shifters" to ease
consumption, Kruger's slogans maintain an urgent tension
that throws into crisis any "normal" positioning of gendered
pronouns. Her uncanny fusion of text and image, her
impeccable craft, and her estranging wit resist any easy or
complacent didacticism, however.
[19] More politically undecidable, perhaps, than Kruger's
feminist subversions of advertising discourse are Jenny
Holzer's critical interventions within the electronic
apparatus of the postmodern spectacle, particularly her
appropriation of light emitting diode (L.E.D.) boards. As
an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the
mid-1970s, Holzer came to New York via the Whitney Museum's
Independent Study Program in 1976-77. After collaborating
with a number of performance artists at the Whitney, she
jettisoned her pursuit of painterly values and in 1977 began
to compose gnomic aphorisms that she collected in a series
of "Truisms" formatted onto posters, stickers, handbills,
hats, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia. Not unlike Daniel
Buren's deconstruction of the gallery's conventional
exhibition space, Holzer took her placards to the streets of
Soho and later throughout Manhattan. This aesthetic gambit
not only allowed her to solicit a populist audience but gave
her work a certain shock value in its estrangement of
everyday life. "From the beginning," she has said, "my work
has been designed to be stumbled across when someone is just
walking along, not thinking about anything in particular,
and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster
or on a sign."^26^
[20] The verbal character of the "Truisms" themselves relies
on the familiar slogans and one-liners common to tabloid
journalism, the _Reader's Digest_ headline, the TV
evangelist pitch-line, campaign rhetoric, rap and hip-hop
lyrics, bumper sticker and T-shirt displays, and countless
other kitsch forms. In some ways the plainspoken vernacular
of her midwest Ohio roots is, as Holzer admits, naturally
suited to such cliched formats. What might redeem this
risky project, possibly, is her avant-garde tactic of
investing such predictable messages, and their
all-too-familiar modes of mass distribution (posters,
stickers, handbills, plaques, hats, T-shirts, and so on)
with conflicted, schizophrenic, and at times politicized
content. Her messages traverse the full spectrum of
everyday life ranging from the reactionary complacency
implied, say, in "AN ELITE IS INEVITABLE," or "ENJOY
YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU CAN'T CHANGE ANYTHING ANYWAY," to the
feminist essentialism of "A MAN CAN'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO
BE A MOTHER," to the populist credo that "GRASS ROOTS
AGITATION IS THE ONLY HOPE," to the postmarxist position
that "CLASS STRUCTURE IS AS ARTIFICIAL AS PLASTIC."
Foregrounding popular truisms as cliched slogans, she
playfully deconstructs the humanist rhetoric of evangelism
("AWFUL PUNISHMENT AWAITS REALLY BAD PEOPLE"); pop
psychoanalysis ("SOMETIMES YOUR UNCONSCIOUS IS TRUER THAN
YOUR CONSCIOUS MIND"); advice columns and self-help manuals
("EXPRESSING ANGER IS NECESSARY"); as well as the usual
saws, platitudes, and hackneyed bromides that are with us
everywhere:
A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE CAN GO A LONG WAY.
A LOT OF OFFICIALS ARE CRACKPOTS.
DON'T RUN PEOPLE'S LIVES FOR THEM.
GOOD DEEDS EVENTUALLY ARE REWARDED.
EVERY ACHIEVEMENT REQUIRES A SACRIFICE.
A SOLID HOME BASE BUILDS A SENSE OF SELF.
While the political intent of some of her truisms is
undecidably voiced--"GOVERNMENT IS A BURDEN ON THE PEOPLE,"
for example, is as serviceable to the reactionary right as
the utopian left--others are more perversely drained of any
meaning at all: "EVERYTHING THAT'S INTERESTING IS NEW."
[21] Nonsensical, parodic, and ideologically loaded, such
clashing platitudes, mottos, and non-sequiturs quickly
caught on and won Holzer a popular audience, as evidenced
not only in the traces of dialogic graffito left on her
street posters, but in her window installations and
exhibitions at Franklin Furnace (1978) and Fashion Moda in
the South Bronx the following year. At this time Holzer
undertook joint ventures such as the "Manifesto Show" that
she helped organize with Colen Fitzgibbon and the
Collaborative Projects group. Later, she would turn toward
distinctively feminist collaborations with the female
graffiti artists Lady Pink and Ilona Granet. Supplementing
the poster art of "Truisms," Holzer in her 1980 "Living"
series branched out into other materials, inscribing her
aphorisms in more monumental formats such as the kind of
bronze plaques, commemorative markers, and commercial signs
that everywhere bestow a kind of kitsch authority on
offices, banks, government buildings, galleries, museums,
and so on.
[22] One symptom of her work's emerging power was the
resistance it met from patrons such as the Marine Midland
Bank on Broadway that responding to one of her truisms--
"IT'S NOT GOOD TO LIVE ON CREDIT"--dismantled her window
installation, consigning it to a broomcloset. Not unlike
Hans Haacke's celebrated expulsion from the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum, such censorship testified to her work's
site-specific shock value. In the mid-1980s, Holzer
intensified her art's political content in her more militant
"Survival" series and, at the same time, undertook a bolder
appropriation of a uniquely authoritative and spectacular
medium: the light emitting diode (L.E.D.) boards installed
worldwide in stock exchanges, urban squares, airports,
stadiums, sports arenas, and other mass locales. The formal
elements of this new high tech medium--its expanded memory
of over 15,000 characters coupled with a built-in capacity
for special visual effects and dynamic motion--advanced
Holzer's poster aesthetics into the linguistic registers of
poetics and textual performance art.
[23] However Holzer's work "naturalizes" the impersonal
displays of her computerized texts, it shares in the
Derridean, antihumanist deconstruction of the rhetorical
presuppositions underwriting transcendental signified
meaning, foundational thought, common sense--all ideal
"truisms." The L.E.D. board's electronic mimicry of rhythm,
inflection, and the play of visual emphasis allows Holzer's
mass art to solicit the humanist division between orality
and inscription, logos and text, speech and writing so as to
put into an uncanny, deconstructive play the margin of
%differance% that normally separates the intimacy and
immediacy of a voiced presence from the authoritative
textual screens which function as the official media for
postmodernism's high tech information society.^27^ "A great
feature of the signs," she has said, "is their capacity to
move, which I love because it's so much like the spoken
word: you can emphasize things; you can roll and pause which
is the kinetic equivalent to inflection in voice" (LG 67).
[24] Yet as "an official or commercial format normally used
for advertising or public service announcements" the L.E.D.
signboard, Holzer maintains, is also the medium par
excellence of contemporary information society.^28^
They are singularly positioned to reproduce the dominant,
ideological signs that naturalize the reign of the commodity
form. "The big signs," she has said, "made things seem
official"; appropriating this public medium "was like
having the voice of authority say something different from
what it would normally say."^29^ Such interventions are
pragmatically suasive, however, only if they hold in
contradiction the dominant forms of the mass media and
estranged, or radically ironic messages. In 1982, under the
auspices of the Public Art Fund, Holzer went to the heart of
America's mass spectacle, choosing selections from among her
most succinct and powerful "Truisms" for public broadcast on
New York's mammoth Times Square Spectacolor Board.
Commenting on the scandal-ridden political milieu of the
Reagan era, slogans such as ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO
SURPRISE were circulating suddenly at the very crossroads of
American consumer society. Negotiating the official spaces
of New York advertising demanded a reconsideration of the
artwork beyond the limits of intrinsic form.
[25] The formal composition of Holzer's spectacolor boards
is mediated by site specific forces in an expanded public
field of legal, commercial, and political interests. For
example, in mounting her own media blitz on Las Vegas--the
American mecca of glitzy signage and neon kitsch--Holzer's
choice of message, L.E.D. formats, and installation locales
had to be adjudicated through a network of businesspeople,
university managers, and political officials. Through these
negotiations, and supported in part by the Nevada Institute
of Contemporary Art, Holzer gained access to L.E.D. signs
and poster installation sites in two shopping centers, the
University of Nevada's sports center, the baggage claim
areas of the Las Vegas airport, and the massive spectacolor
publicity board outside Caesar's Palace. Infiltrating
Vegas' neon aura, Holzer's telling message, displayed on the
Dectronic Starburst double-sided electronic signboard of
Caesar's Palace--
PROTECT ME
FROM WHAT
I WANT
--laid bare the contradictory wager of consumerism at the
heart of the postmodern spectacle.
[26] Throughout the 1980s, Holzer mounted similar
installations on Alcoa Corporation's giant L.E.D. sign
outside Pittsburgh, on mobile truck signs in New York, and
other sites nationwide. Moreover, as an intern for a
television station in Hartford, Holzer began to purchase
commercial time to broadcast her messages in 30-second
commercial slots throughout the Northeast to a potential
audience of millions. Here Holzer's textual praxis is
guided by the same strategy of defamiliarization: mainlining
the dominant arteries and electronic organs of the mass
communications apparatus with postmodern ironies and heady,
linguistic estrangements. "Again, the draw for me," she
says, "is that the unsuspecting audience will see very
different content from what they're used to seeing in this
everyday medium. It's the same principle that's at work
with the signs in a public place" (LG 68). Whether Holzer's
art remains oppositional to, rather than incorporated by,
the postmodern spectacle has become a more pressing
question, given her rising star status in the late 1980s and
1990s.
[27] As a valorized figure in the world art market, Holzer
enjoys regular gallery exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Los
Angeles, Paris, Cologne, and other major art centers. In
1990 alone she not only undertook shows in the prestigious
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and DIA Art Foundation, but
served as the official U.S. representative to the Venice
Biennale. When she made the jump from street agitation to
international stardom in the late 1980s, Holzer adjusted her
presentation, paradoxically, to the more intimate and
privatized nuances of commercial exhibition space.
Installed in such settings as the Barbara Gladstone Gallery,
the Grand Lobby of the Brooklyn Museum, the Rhona Hoffman
Gallery, the Guggenheim, and the DIA Art Foundation, her new
"Under a Rock" and "Laments" series inscribed her earlier
truisms in granite and marble benches and sarcophagi
quarried in Vermont near her summer residence in Hoosick,
New York. Casting her truisms in stonework summoned an
uncanny fusion of the monumental and the popular, at once
glossing the medium of tombstones, anonymous war memorials,
commemorative benches, and the kind of kitsch, public
furniture found, say, in any bank lobby or shopping plaza.
[28] Departing from the spectacular spaces of Times Square
and the Las Vegas strip, "Under a Rock" invoked the hushed
atmosphere of a chapel by displaying files of stone benches,
each illuminated by an overhead spotlight and arranged
before a color L.E.D. display. Such a sparse and shadowy
layout--in its simulacral citation of church pews and
stained glass iconography--employed a postmodern medium,
paradoxically, to invoke a ritual aura of mourning,
confession, and moral self-examination that would complement
the work's verbal content of unspeakable acts of torture,
mutilation, and humiliation. While her terse, indeterminate
narratives are not tied to any specific public agenda, they
often adopt a feminist critique of male violence, misogyny,
and machismo. Although many of her "laments" are lyrical--
"I KEEP MY BRAIN ON SO I DO NOT FALL INTO NOTHING IF HIS
CLAWS HURT ME"--others more broadly rely on the kind of
fetishized coding of militarism, torture, and political
assassination that, say, Leon Golub finds everywhere
displayed in the contemporary media: "PEOPLE GO TO THE RIVER
WHERE IT IS / LUSH AND MUDDY TO SHOOT CAPTIVES, / TO FLOAT
OR SINK THEM. SHOTS KILL / MEN WHO ALWAYS WANT. SOMEONE /
IMAGINED OR SAW THEM LEAPING TO / SAVAGE THE GOVERNMENT. NOW
BODIES / DIVE AND GLIDE IN THE WATER. SCARING / FRIENDS OR
MAKING THEM FURIOUS." The spare and plainspoken language of
"Under a Rock" is designed neither to shock the reader nor
to subvert the linguistic medium, as in much of so-called
Language writing. Rather, her work exposes how the
representation of such barbarism has moved to the center of
the postmodern scene, whose routine horror is the daily
stuff of the tabloid, the morning edition, and nightly
update.
[29] More subversive, perhaps, is the juxtaposition of
linguistic elements and the arrangement of physical space
that her installations exploit. In her DIA Foundation
"Laments," for example, Holzer staked out the exhibition
space with thirteen sarcophagi--variously carved in green
and red marble, onyx, and black granite--illuminated with
postmodern LED display boards that radiate vertically
arrayed messages into the hushed and sepulchral air. Yet
the effect of such a bizarre mix of antique caskets and high
tech light grids is undecidable. Is it calculated to
disrupt conventional oppositions between ancient artifacts
and today's telecommunication medium, or to re-auraticize
the L.E.D. medium as an object of contemporary veneration?
Are the sarcophagi exposed as exhibition fetishes or simply
updated in an aestheticized homage to the postmodern objet
d'art? Undeniable, in any case, is the manic structure of
feeling you experience sitting on one of Holzer's granite
benches bombarded by an electronic frieze of visually
intense messages.
[30] However deconstructive of traditional gallery values,
the political status of Holzer's recent installations--
marked at once as objects of ritual "lament" and art market
souvenirs--is debatable. On the one hand, new works such as
Child Text--conceived for her 1990 Venice Biennial
installation--productively negotiate between a personal
phenomenology of mothering (as in "I AM SULLEN AND THEN
FRANTIC WHEN I CANNOT BE WHOLLY WITHIN / THE ZONE OF MY
INFANT. I AM NOT CONSUMED BY HER. I AM AN / ANIMAL WHO DOES
ALL SHE SHOULD. I AM SURPRISED THAT I / CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO
HER. I WAS PAST FEELING MUCH / BECAUSE I WAS TIRED OF MYSELF
BUT I WANT HER TO LIVE") and a social critique of what
Adrienne Rich has theorized as motherhood's institutional
place under patriarchy. On the other hand, however, such
displays are themselves commodity forms within the gallery
exchange market, fetching up to $40,000 per L.E.D. sign,
$30,000 per granite bench, and $50,000 per sarcophagus. It
is not Holzer's purpose, of course, to deny or repress her
work's commodity status but rather to exploit it in
de-auraticizing gallery art's remove from its commercial
base. Holzer's truisms have always been up for sale but at
the more populist rates of $15 per cap or T-shirt and $250
per set of 21 posters. When she markets a granite slab,
however, for the price of a luxury car, her earlier truism--
PRIVATE PROPERTY CREATED CRIME--must necessarily return with
a vengeance. Indeed, Holzer does not flinch from such self-
recrimination but pushes the difficult paradox of aesthetic
critique and recuperation to its vexed limits: "selling my
work to wealthy people," she admits, "can be like giving
little thrills to the people I'm sometimes criticizing."^30^
For all its honesty, such a frank acknowledgement of
commodification, nonetheless, is a chilling echo of her
onetime truism "AN ELITE IS INEVITABLE," leaving Holzer
susceptible to the critique of what Donald Kuspit has
indicted as "Gallery Leftism": an aesthetic politics
"calculated to make a certain impact, occupy a certain
position, in the art world, whose unconscious ultimate
desire is to produce museum art however much it consciously
sees itself as having socio-political effect in the
world."^31^
[31] Part of what is at stake here is the difference between
merely rehearsing the avant-garde critique of the museum--
now itself a thoroughly stylized and recuperated gesture of
protest--and committing art to social change. To her
credit, Holzer's key precedent has unhinged the fixed status
of today's communication apparatus, leaving it susceptible
to more adventurous, more politicized interventions.
Nevertheless, the overtly commercialized status of Holzer's
"truisms" lends itself to gallery recuperation in a way that
the more politicized and collaborative projects of, say,
Artmakers, or Political Art Distribution/Documentation
(PADD) is calculated to deny. Since the mid-'80s, the
graphic resources pioneered by such visual/text artists as
Hans Haacke, Holzer, and Kruger have been appropriated from
the New York art market and articulated, at street level, as
in, say, Greenpeace's critique of advanced capitalism's
environmental settlement, or Act Up's agitation on behalf of
people with AIDS.
[32] Responding to the Reagan/Bush era's attempts to
"greenwash" devastating environmental policies through slick
public relations campaigns, Greenpeace has had to respond
precisely at the level of the media image to rearticulate
such ideologically-loaded spectacles to its own progressive
agenda. "Greenpeace believes," says Steve Loper, the Action
Director for Greenpeace, U.S.A, "that an image is an
all-important thing. The direct actions call attention to
the issues we're involved in. We put a different point of
view out that usually ends up on the front page of the paper
. . . If we just did research and lobbying and came out with
a report it would probably be on the 50th page of the
paper."^32^
[33] The creation of compelling images, however, is a
rigorously site specific process and--although articulated
to politicized positions on, say, nuclear arms escalation,
deforestation, or toxic dumping--each intervention is
radically contingent on the particular, conjunctural forces
and pragmatic demands of a given moment. One of
Greenpeace's tactics is to seize on popular news stories
such as the scandalous New York City garbage barge that, in
the absence of a dump site, sailed up and down the eastern
seaboard throughout 1987. Appropriating this object of
sustained public embarrassment, Greenpeace rearticulated it
to the theme of conservation through unfurling a giant
banner across the length of the vessel reading: "NEXT TIME
. . . TRY RECYCLING." Greenpeace's better known gambit is
to go to the heart of America's monumental icons of national
heritage such as, say, South Dakota's Mount Rushmore or New
York's Statue of Liberty to recode their spectacular
meanings to its own agenda. Such was Greenpeace's strategy
in its 1987 attempt to place a giant surgical mask over the
mouth of Rushmore's George Washington reading "WE THE PEOPLE
SAY NO TO ACID RAIN" and its 1984 antinuclear banner, hung
like a giant stripped-in caption on the Statue of Liberty in
commemoration of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki: "Give Me Liberty From Nuclear Weapons, Stop
Testing."
[34] On the vanguard of such postmodern agitational work,
guerilla collectives like Gran Fury, Little Elvis, and Wave
Three of ACT UP have mastered the fine art of
interventionist critique. In 1989, for example, Gran Fury
borrowed from the appropriation of advertising discourse,
popularized by Hans Haacke in the 1970s, to refocus public
attention on corporate profiteering from the AIDS crisis.
The collective's formal tactic followed Haacke's uncanny
fusions of slick advertising visuals set in contradiction
with texts exposing the often brutal work settings and
ruthless industrial practices such imagery normally
deflects. But unlike Haacke's point of subversion,
positioned as it is within museum culture, Gran Fury's mode
of distribution targeted a potentially much wider audience:
the readership of _The New York Times_. In "New York
Crimes," Gran Fury produced a meticulous four-page
simulacrum of the print layout and masthead design of the
_Times_ which documented the Koch administration's cuts to
hospital facilities servicing AIDS, its failure to address
the housing needs of New York's homeless People with AIDS
(PWAs), its cutbacks to city drug treatment programs by
effectively shifting them to shrinking state budgets, and
the latter's withholding of condoms and medical support to
the 25% of state prison inmates tested positive for HIV
infection. On the morning of ACT UP's March 28, 1989 mass
demonstration on City Hall, Gran Fury opened _New York
Times_ vending boxes and wrapped the paper in their own "NY
Crimes" jacket. For those who would simply ignore the
stories, Gran Fury also included a slick clash of text and
image that articulated the visual iconography of painstaking
antiviral research to outrageous corporate greed summed up
in an unguarded quote from Patrick Gage of Hoffman-La Roche,
Inc.. "One million [people with AIDS]," Gage mused, "isn't
a market that's exciting. Sure it's growing, but it's not
asthma." Such callous disregard for life is played off Gran
Fury's polemical caption that plainly lays out its
discursive counter-strategy: "This is to Enrage You."
[35] Perhaps the image that has best stood the test of time,
however, is Gran Fury's _Read My Lips_ lithograph produced
for a Spring 1988 AIDS Action Kiss-in to protest against gay
bashing. _Read My Lips_ employs a camp image of two
forties-style sailors in a loving embrace, thereby
articulating the identity politics of gender to a bold,
homoerotic sexuality. But beyond this obvious agenda, the
work's clever textual layout cites Barbara Kruger's
interventionist aesthetic to signify on George Bush's 1988
campaign vow to slash tax supports for domestic social
programs. Such sophisticated metasimulations of the
advertising sign's formal inmixing of image and text recode
today's largely homophobic world outlook to make us think
twice about what Adrienne Rich has defined as compulsory
heterosexuality.^33^ As we pass beyond the twentieth-
century scene into the new millennium, it will surely be in
the collaborative aesthetic praxes of such new social
movements--articulated as they are to class, environmental,
racial, feminist, gay rights, and public health issues--that
America's avant-garde legacy of cultural intervention will
live on: its political edge cutting through the semiosis of
everyday life, going to the heart of the postmodern
spectacle.

------------------------------------------------------------

NOTES

^1^ Hilton Kramer, "Turning Back the Clock," _The New
Criterion_ (April 1984), 72.

^2^ Clement Greenberg, "Modernist Painting," _The New
Art_, ed. Gregory Battock (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973), 101
(hereafter cited in the text as MP).

^3^ While Greenberg is often set up as the strawman
for contesting art's ontological remove from history, his
actual idealization of high modernism rests (as does
Adorno's) not on an ontic difference but a relational
reaction to the spreading reign of kitsch. On this point
see Rosalind Krauss, _The Originality of the Avant-Garde and
Other Modernist Myths_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), 1;
Andreas Huyssen, _After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass
Culture, Postmodernism_ (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1986), 57; Thomas Crow, "Modernism and Mass Culture,"
in Benjamin H.D. Buchloch, Serge Guilbaut and David Solkin,
eds. _Modernism and Modernity_ (Halifax: Press of Nova
Scotia College of Art and Design, 1983), 215-264; and T.J.
Clark, "Clement Greenberg's Theory of Art," _The Politics of
Interpretation_, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1983), 203-220.

^4^ Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch,"
_Partisan Review_ 6 (Fall 1939), 34-49, rpt. in _Mass
Culture_, ed. Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White
(Chicago: The Free Press, 1957), 107 (hereafter cited in the
text as AK).

^5^ The traffic in contemporary spectacle, for
Benjamin, did not yet constitute a one-way flow, noting that
"the newsreel offers everyone the opportunity to rise from
passer-by to movie extra. In this way any man might even
find himself part of a work of art." Walter Benjamin, "The
Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,"
_Illuminations_, tr. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken
Books, 1985), 231 (hereafter cited in the text as WMP).

^6^ In this vein, Benjamin cited Dadaism's experiments
with the new techniques of mechanical reproduction which not
only led to their playful reframings of "masterpiece" art
and other cultural icons, but also the appropriation of
objects collaged from everyday life. While such tactics
achieved only localized, provisional effects in the West,
the Russian avant-gardes mounted a broader strategy of
sociocultural renovation in the early years of the Soviet
Union. The example of the worker-correspondent drawn from
Soviet journalism served, for Benjamin, to deconstruct the
oppositional roles that--propped up as they are by the
bourgeois cult of specialization--separates writer and
reader, expert and layman, poet and critic, scholar and
performer. Unlike the capitalist press, which reproduces
dominant bourgeois class interests, newspaper publication in
Russia, Benjamin argued, offered a "theater of literary
confusion" that nevertheless broadcast the political
concerns of the writer as producer, and more widely, "the
man on the sidelines who believes he has a right to see his
own interests expressed." Walter Benjamin, "The Artist as
Producer," _Reflections_, tr. Edmund Jephcott (New York:
Schocken Books, 1986), 300 (hereafter cited in the text as
AP).

^7^ Consider the dehumanizing regime, say, of a
McDonald's kitchen. In this postmodern sweatshop, employees
are trained by video disks to perform the tedious,
predesigned regimens for twenty-odd work stations that when
meshed together make each franchise a highly efficient
fastfood production machine. Each of the twenty-four
burgers one cooks in any given batch is part of a completely
Taylorized process: from the premeasured beef patties to the
computerized timers for heating each bun, to the automatic
catsup, mustard, and special sauce dispensers, to the
formulas for the exact measurements of onion bits, pickles,
and lettuce each Big Mac receives. Far from possessing even
the autonomy of a short order cook, one serves here purely
as a cog in a ninety second burger assembly-line. Moreover,
from the monitored soft-drink spigots to the fully automated
registers, from the computerized formulas for hiring,
scheduling, and organizing workers to the centrally
administered accounting systems, every aspect of a
McDonald's franchise is organized and scrutinized in minute
detail by the panoptic Hamburger Central in Oak Brook,
Illinois. A thoroughly postmodern institution, McDonald's
presides at any given time over a temporary workforce of
some 500,000 teenagers; by the mid-1980s 7% or nearly 8
million Americans had earned their living under the sign of
the Golden Arches. See John F. Love, _McDonald's Behind the
Golden Arches_ (New York: Bantam, 1986) and Barbara Garson,
_The Electronic Sweatshop_ (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1988), 19.

^8^ For a discussion of de- and reterritorialization,
see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, _A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia_, tr. Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988).

^9^ As New York State and City Parks Commissioner,
Moses, of course, had commandeered the productivist ethos of
the interbellum decades to forge a huge "public authority"
bureaucracy of federal, state, and private interests that
backed the renovation of Central Park, Long Island's Jones
Beach, Flushing Meadow fairgrounds--the site of the 1939-40
New York World's Fair--and 1700 recreational facilities, as
well as the construction of such mammoth highway, bridge,
and parkway systems as the West Side Highway, the Belt
Parkway, and the Triborough Project. While labor was
recruited to build these giant thoroughfares and
spectacular, recreational spaces, it could not control the
irresistible momentum of social modernization that burst
through the seams of the older metropolitan cityscape.

^10^ Marshall Berman, _All That is Solid Melts in Air:
The Experience of Modernity_ (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1982), 308.

^11^ Levittown II, in William Manchester's
description, comprised "schools, churches, baseball
diamonds, a town hall, factory sidings, parking lots,
offices for doctors and dentists, a reservoir, a shopping
center, a railroad station, newspaper presses, garden
clubs--enough, in short, to support a densely populated city
of 70,000, the tenth largest in Pennsylvania." William
Manchester, _The Glory and the Dream, A Narrative History of
America_, 1932-1972 (New York: Bantam Books, 1980), 432.

^12^ "Edge cities," writes Joel Garreau, "represent
the third wave of our lives pushing into new frontiers in
this half century. First we moved our homes out past the
traditional idea of what constituted a city. This was the
suburbanization of America, especially after World War II.
Then we wearied of returning downtown for the necessities of
life, so we moved our marketplaces out to where we lived.
This was the malling of America, especially in the 1960s and
1970s. Today, we have moved our means of creating wealth,
the essence of urbanism--our jobs--out to where most of us
have lived and shopped for two generations. That has led to
the rise of Edge City." _Edge City: Life on the New
Frontier_ (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 4.

^13^ Henri Lefebvre, _Everyday Life in the Modern
World_, tr. Sacha Rabinovitch (New York: Harper and Row,
1971), 56 (hereafter cited in the text as EL).

^14^ "[T]oday consumption . . . defines precisely the
stage where the commodity is immediately produced as a sign,
as sign value, and where signs (culture) are produced as
commodities." Jean Baudrillard, _For a Critique of the
Political Economy of the Sign_, tr. Charles Levin (St.
Louis: Telos Press, 1981), 147 (hereafter cited in the text
as PES).

^15^ "We must think of the media," he advises, "as if
they were, in outer orbit, a sort of genetic code which
controls the mutation of the real into the hyperreal, just
as the other molecular code controls the passage of the
signal from a representative sphere of meaning to the
genetic sphere of the programmed signal." Jean Baudrillard,
_Simulations_, tr. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip
Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 55 (hereafter
cited in the text as S). Within the horizon of the
hyperreal, the instant precession of every conceivable
interpretive model and representation around and within any
historical "fact" constitutes an indeterminate, virtually
"magnetic field of events" (S 32), where the difference
between the signified event and its simulacrum implodes now
in a global circulation/ventilation of contradictory
signals, mutating codes, and mixed messages.

^16^ The presumption to speak now on behalf of the
proletariat in some wholly unmediated fashion seems
theoretically naive after the pressing debates of
postmodernity. During the 1985 Institute of Contemporary
Arts forum on postmodernism, for example, Jean-Francois
Lyotard argued cogently against Terry Eagleton's orthodox
nostalgia for the proletariat as the privileged agent for
social change in the Third World. Following Kant, Lyotard
pointed out that in contradistinction to designating
specific laborers in culturally diversified communities, the
term proletariat, nominating as it does a more properly
universal "subject to be emancipated," is an ahistorical
abstraction--a "pure Idea of Reason" having little purchase
today on the actual politics of everyday life. Indeed, some
of the greatest atrocities, he cautioned, have been
perpetuated under this very category error of pursuing a
"politics of the sublime": "That is to say, to make the
terrible mistake of trying to represent in political
practice an Idea of Reason. To be able to say, 'We are the
proletariat' or 'We are the incarnation of free humanity.'"
Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Defining the Postmodern, etc.," tr.
G. Bennington, in _Postmodernism_ (London: ICA Documents 4 &
5, 1986), 11 (hereafter cited as ICA).

^17^ Jean Baudrillard, _In the Shadow of the Silent
Majorities_, tr. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip
Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 2 (hereafter cited
in the text as SSM).

^18^ See _New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in
the 1990s_, ed. Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques (London:
Lawrence & Wishart in association with _Marxism Today_,
1989).

^19^ "Thus, once the images broadcast by television
and the time spent in front of the TV set have been
analyzed," writes de Certeau, "it remains to be asked what
the consumer makes of these images and during these hours."
Michel de Certeau, _The Practice of Everyday Life_, tr.
Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1984), 31 (hereafter cited in the text as PEL).

^20^ Strategies, as de Certeau defines them, mark "a
triumph of place over time" (PEL 36)--through transforming
the unreadable contingencies of history into a legible,
panoptic space. Tactics, in contrast, cut across, raid, and
out-maneuver the logic, rules, and laws that govern such
institutional and disciplinary sites of power. As the
gambit of a weak force, a tactic relies on cunning,
trickery, wit, finesse--what the Greeks described under the
rubric of %metis%, or "ways of knowing" (PEL xix).

^21^ In particular, feminist critiques of the
chauvinist media representations perpetuated under
capitalist patriarchy have benefitted from Benjamin's
earlier class-based analysis of aesthetic tactics that in
the interbellum decades effected a functional transformation
--a Brechtian %Umfunktionierung%--of the then emerging
apparatus of the bourgeois culture industry. It was the
influence of Sergei Tretyakov and the postsynthetic cubist
collaborations of the Russian suprematists, constructivists,
and Laboratory Period figures that guided Benjamin's
thinking on the avant-garde turn (brought about by
photography, film, and other mechanically reproducible
media) away from the modernist paradigm of aesthetic
representation--its cult of artistic genius and the aura of
the unique work of art. By taking into account an artwork's
material conditions of exhibition, distribution, and
audience reception, as part of its productive apparatus, the
Russian constructivists decisively challenged the abstract
and self-reflexive values of modern formalism in favor of
the more critical representations of documentary
photomontage and photocollage. The new cultural logic of
mechanical reproduction, occasioned by photography and film,
not only unsettled the traditional divide between high and
low aesthetics but deconstructed conventional oppositions
separating art from advertising, agitation, and propaganda.
No longer invested with the aura of a ritual object, the
artwork as such was opened to the vital dialectic between
intrinsic form and the politics of mass persuasion.

^22^ Roland Barthes, _Mythologies_, tr. Annette
Lavers (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972), 92 (hereafter cited in
the text as M). Photographic codes and the cultural
messages they broadcast, serve, in their signifying elements
and discursive objects, what Barthes theorized as the
secondary, metalinguistic operations of myth and ideological
representation.

^23^ "Today, at the level of mass communications, it
appears that the linguistic message is indeed present in
every image: as title, caption, accompanying press article,
film dialogue, comic strip balloon." Roland Barthes,
_Image/Music/Text_, tr. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and
Wang, 1977), 38 (hereafter cited in the text as IMT).

^24^ See Erving Goffman, _Gender Advertisements_
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979).

^25^ See Simone de Beauvoir, _The Second Sex_, tr. H.
M. Parshley (New York: Knopf, 1957), 132.

^26^ Jenny Holzer, "Jenny Holzer's Language Games,"
interview with J. Siegel, _Arts Magazine_ 60 (December
1985), 67 (hereafter cited in the text as LG).

^27^ "If, by hypothesis," Derrida writes, "we maintain
that the opposition of speech to language is absolutely
rigorous, then differance would be not only the play of
differences within language but also the relation of speech
to language, the detour through which I must pass in order
to speak, the silent promise I must make; and this schemata,
of message to code, etc.." Jacques Derrida, "Differance,"
_Margins of Philosophy_, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1982), 15.

^28^ Jenny Holzer, "Wordsmith, An Interview with Jenny
Holzer," with Bruce Ferguson, _Art in America_ 74 (December
1986), 113.

^29^ Paul Taylor, "We are the Word: Jenny Holzer Sees
Aphorism as Art," _Vogue_ 178 (November 1988), 390.

^30^ Quoted in Colin Westerbeck, "Jenny Holzer, Rhona
Hoffman Gallery," _Artforum_ 25 (May 1987), 155.

^31^ Donald Kuspit, "Gallery Leftism," _Vanguard_ 12
(November 1983), 24 (hereafter cited in the text as GL).

^32^ December 1987 interview quoted in Steve Durland,
"Witness: The Guerrilla Theater of Greenpeace," _Art In the
Public Interest_, ed. Arlene Raven (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI
Research Press, 1989), 35.

^33^ See Adrienne Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality
and Lesbian Existence," in _Blood, Bread, and Poetry_ (New
York: W.W. Norton, 1986), 23-75.


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