In the Dead Letter Office

I have an essay out in the catalogue of Jenny Holzer's exhibition, War Paintings, which is running at the Museo Correr in Venice, from 7 May to 22 November. The exhibition was curated by Thomas Kellein, and the catalogue is published in cooperation with the Written Art Foundation.

You can purchase the catalogue here, or you can read my essay here. An earlier version of the essay was published by Media-N, and could be read here.

The essay begins:

 

Behind the canvas, the water looks cold and unforgiving. It is as if the words were written onto ice crystals, black on blue, and where the canvas is still dark and liquid, I have to step closer in order to read them. Only when I lean in can I see the file number at the top of the page, (0062-04-C | D 369-69278), which indicates that the painting is based on a government document. It is difficult to read the words.

  Fig I. in (JIHAD) time, 2014, oil on linen, 57 x 44 in. / 147.3 x 111.8 cm. Text: U.S. government document. © 2014 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. 

 

Fig I. in (JIHAD) time, 2014, oil on linen, 57 x 44 in. / 147.3 x 111.8 cm. Text: U.S. government document. © 2014 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. 

Slowly, I make out the handwritten lines that begin page 99 of the U.S. military’s report on the actions of the Special Forces personnel that beat and burnt eight prisoners in Gardez, Afghanistan, before dousing them with cold water and sending them out into the snow and ice. It begins: “I that my Renown is mentioned in (JIHAD) time I was a childe.”