Jenny Holzer: SOFTER at Blenheim Palace

if he survives he’ll confirm for future generations how beauty was dying like beauty in flames  

gently we go into the night. hands clasped, umbrella up, pebbles turn. I have waited for this since I saw your words on my screen. I have waited for this since you were made visible, and they helped me keep writing. rejuvenated a love of art, of protest, of public accusation. you have been planted in my sternum for over 1000 days. here I return to you and the art. become a part of history, your history.

i ran to the one who fell wanting to take her away but she was already gone

about a month ago I went to mac in Birmingham to see jenny holzer give a talk on her art. I had seen an exhibition of her work for the first time in that gallery, two months before. we arrived far too early, and I am sweating, mostly the pores in my hands, and I wipe them continuously on my jeans. sitting the café about fifteen minutes before it starts, I see a familiar face in my eyeline. she’s familiar from phone screens and art books. as she walks away, I run up and tell Holzer that    that    I’m not sure what   I’m not too sure what I said to her.   How do you tell someone that you’ve never met that they helped you understand art and feminism and that their words founded your voice with you? you can’t. so you stumble and blush instead. she curtsies when I tell her I love her work. it’s not enough, can never tell her how much. after her talk, I ask a question and she chuckles – ‘I can’t possibly answer that in one sitting, that’s a very good question’. she smiles. I am on the edge of my cushioned seat. she hears me, she sees me. this is enough.

on the threshold he slaughters us and time

at Blenheim Palace, Jenny Holzer exhibits a piece called SOFTER. It accompanies a wider gallery installation in the palace. although I can see the glowing pink LEDs inside the huge stone palace it is too late to go in. I book the exhibition for later in the month on the way home. suddenly, the outside of the palace is lit up. we stand in the courtyard and are surrounded by words. words that jump through the rain and run under our feet to rest for half a second on the palace walls. I am shocked. I didn’t think it would be this huge, this all-encompassing. my heart lifts. I am seeing the words that hold steady in my mind, the medium that resonates around my frontal lobe. the silence is most oppressive here. the courtyard swallows noise and so no one is heard, just the occasional sound of gravel and birds.

i bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by proximate desolation

this is not completely true. as I stand next to a young family, a young boy and girl play and scream beside me.  their laughter carries with an odd echo. I read about Syrian children, first hand accounts of running under tables and away from bombs. I feel so acutely disconnected.

i bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil

the happiness of being there, with holzer’s work begins to wear off as I keep reading the words. it’s interviews, poems, and prose from war veterans, soldiers, victims, children, doctors. it is   harrowing. it is so    immense. it does what it has to. with each rolling credit for bullets wounds and bomb shelters my heart falters slightly more. its dark and I search for my mum. we hold each other in the middle of the courtyard.    I am so sad.   I am so sad.    I am so helpless.    I am so complicit.

the houses on the left are burning, the houses on the right are burning

we leave the courtyard slowly. it has been two hours. the night is cold. we sip soup. this isn’t fair, and mum doesn’t want to have it, it feels weird, it feels gratuitous, it is wrong. we drink anyhow. I film the projections. after an hour or so I feel invasive.

huddled in a gateway on the side where the shadow falls, terrified he cannot become a shadow, he listens

write about war and colonialism and refugees and project it on a palace built on blood money and war victories and housed Churchill as a child.




stories of massacre on stone walls

a brightly lit funeral

next to me, a woman cackles in the night. defence mechanism.


*italicised words are the projections i remember. they are not my words, or Jenny’s.