Jenny Holzer at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Softer Targets

The English Summer was writ large in Somerset today with the rain barely stopping and the train lines largely closed for maintenance, all passengers shepherded on to replacement buses. Despite the delays and the weather, Bruton's recent inclusion in the contemporary art world is in no doubt. Opened last year, the converted farm buildings and manicured gardens of Hauser & Wirth Somerset are fantastic; a real destination venue, comprising not just a coffee shop or interesting selection of titles to pick up in the shop but also a rustic kitchen serving up produce from the farm the gallery and concerns sit within. Timings meant I was unable to stay for lunch but the menu looked enviable. 

The art itself is fiercely conceptual, feminist and political. Holzer's oeuvre has always involved text or lack thereof and since 2004 she has been using American military documents as source material, often highly edited or redacted, meaning multiple pages can sometimes be reduced to blacked out rectangles, nothing remaining of the original meaning or content. In fact the title of the show itself comes from one such document when 'Softer Targets' was amongst the only wording left legible after significant government censorship. 

Purple, 2008

Purple, 2008

The show includes a number of paintings based on these edited texts and they have a weighty feel, not just in the insinuation of what is left unsaid, or at least publicly denied but also in their physicality - huge blocks of black depthless surface. Lighter by vision though darker still in content the artist has a number of LED pieces in the converted barns and pigsty. Each of these is programmed to scroll her texts across or down or along - the texts varying from her Truisms as far back as the late 70s to more recent works also involving statements, provocations, threats and lyrics. 

Survival: Die fast and quiet... 2006

Survival: Die fast and quiet... 2006

Holzer's work by design has lent itself to mass consumption and her phrases and exclamations work brilliantly on billboards and T-shirts. Older pieces here include granite benches from her 80s series Under a Rock and reprises from the Living Series a decade later - engraved stone rarely being anything other than official, these have lost little of their ability to shock. In the context of this show, the benches are sat both outside in courtyards and in the galleries themselves - the breadth of the exhibition is much more expansive than the gallery could have put on in London and walking through the spaces there is much to dwell on the failings and abuse of power.

A bench from the Living Series in the Cloister - installation view

A bench from the Living Series in the Cloister - installation view

Two tables of human bones tackling issues relating to the war in Bosnia such as the war crimes against women, sit in stark contrast to the slick scrolling light works but the walk through the various rooms is a great overview of one of America's most important living artists. The exhibition acts as a reminder not just of an artist's significant output and the evolution of her practise over time but also a stark demonstration that many of her Truisms remain painfully precedent and unchallenged in a world no less troubled or equal as when she first rose to prominence almost forty years ago.

Floor, 2015 and in the background, water board installation view (2010)

Floor, 2015 and in the background, water board installation view (2010)

http://www.hauserwirthsomerset.com/exhibitions/jenny-holzer-softer-targets-20150712 until November 1st