Jenny Holzer’s work largely revolves around text in public spaces. Her iconic Truisms (1978-87) have been displayed in public spaces through a variety of means such as photocopied posters, storefronts, billboards, electronic signs and even T-shirts.
Please Change Beliefs (1997) is a development of Holzer’s earlier work in physical public spaces. She sets up her truisms in a publicly accessible virtual space where visibility is not limited by geographical locations or proximity, demonstrating the “collapse of the local and remote into a networked space or ‘third space’.”[i]
Holzer further expands on this idea of accessibility, which is intrinsic to open source, by allowing anyone to alter and add to the work. The title itself is an invitation to reconsider and rewrite these notions of truth. The altered truisms are a mix bag of insightful, ludicrous, dark, humorous, skeptical and optimistic. We inevitably identify with some of these appended truisms, destabilizing the seemingly fixed and timeless definition of ‘truth’.
Although it is facilitated by Holzer, the work moves away from the conventional ‘artist-audience’ model to the “collaborative, many-to-many systems of writing [and] media-making”.[i] By partaking in this editing of truisms, the users are converted from audience to participant to contributor. Furthermore, the work functions as an expanding database of collective thoughts and ideas. It exemplifies the notion of a collective narrative created with a potentially infinite number of minds, coming together in a single ‘third space’.
Text as Medium
As highlighted by Galloway and Rabinowitz, the “virtual space creates social situations without traditional rules of etiquette [and] diminishes our fears of interaction”.[ii] Contributors can proclaim these truisms, without attaching authorship or receiving backlash. Furthermore, the use of text instead of image makes it less intimidating as anyone connected to the web has an equal say.
This, coupled with the sense of anonymity, are important factors in maintaining the rawness and authenticity of these altered personal ‘truisms’. Overall, I believe that Holzer’s work is effective in writing a global collective narrative, and does illustrate the following concept:
“This dramatically alters the act of writing and narrative, from the singular activity of a very personal form of individual expression, to a collective activity that is highly collaborative: all publishable instantaneously to a global audience.”
— Randall Packer, from “Collective Narrative” in the essay Open Source Studio (2015)
[i] Randall Packer (2015). “Collective Narrative” from the essay Open Source Studio.
[ii] Galloway, K. & Rabinowitz, S. “Welcome to Electronic Café International,” (1992) in Packer, R., & Jordan, K. (Eds.). Multimedia : from Wagner to Virtual Reality ([Expanded ed.). New York: Norton, 2002.