In the Dead Letter Office


Fig. 1. in (JIHAD) time, 2014, oil on linen, 57 x 44 in. / 147.3 x 111.8 cm. Text: U.S. government document. © 2015 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Used with permission.

I have a new piece out in Media-N, on Jenny Holzer's redaction paintings. A version of this essay is also forthcoming in the catalogue of Jenny Holzer's 'War Paintings' exhibition, currently on display in the Museo Correr in Venice. The catalogue is edited by Thomas Kellein, and is being produced in collaboration with Frankfurt's Written Art Foundation. You can read the piece at it appeared in Media-N here.

This is the beginning of the piece:

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.

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.”

Saving the Bad New Things

I have a new essay out in Onsite 32: Weak Systems. It is about Beaumaris, Wales, the British class system, and Brecht, amongst many other things. Read it here. This is the beginning:

The excavator made short work of the sheds. Its power shovel easily broke through their corrugated iron walls, rusted by a century of sea spray, to reveal piles of old fishing tackle and the remnants of half-built boats. Amid the destruction, debris from the sheds fell onto the smooth stones of the beach. The sky had the same green-grey hue as the pebbles, as if God had run out of colours in Anglesey and painted this Welsh island with the murky remnants of his palette.

Further along the beach, a woman is walking her dogs. They sniff at the water’s edge, eagerly searching for a gift offered up by the sea: a small crab perhaps, or else Mr Jones’ unwanted office lunch, tossed out of his car window as he drove along the winding seaside road and now returned to dry land by the tide. The woman is searching, too. Her head is bowed down, as if in prayer, and her eyes scan the water’s wake. She bends down, picks something up, and cradles it in her hand. It’s a shard of porcelain, with fine black ink work depicting a castle, hidden under a hazy glaze of blue, yellow and red. It could be a page from a children’s colouring book, hardened by the sea. ‘Children,’ Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘learn from bright colours, because the fantastic play of colour is the home of memory without yearning, and it can be free of yearning because it is unalloyed.’

She looks towards the sheds.

'A Grammar of Redaction' at the New Museum's Temporary Center for Translation

A Grammar of Redaction. As part of the New Museum's Temporary Center for Translation (Summer 2014), I submitted some materials from an ongoing book project, How To Do Things Without Words, which looks at the aesthetic logic of redacted documents from the American War on Terror. A few pages of the grammar are on display as part of the exhibition. I also wrote a longer grammar analysing some of strange linguistic categories to be found in these documents, as well as a Phrasebook, that contains excerpts from the texts that I discuss in the grammar. You can download both below.