Jenny Holzer App to Deliver ‘Nice Books’ Dwelling

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Jenny Holzer App to Bring ‘Great Books’ Home

For decades, the artist Jenny Holzer has projected phrases – often borrowed sayings – onto surfaces such as building facades, ocean waves and mountains. However, her new project titled “You Are My Ally” after a line from Sappho includes her first smartphone app that allows home users to overlay some charged quotes over their own surroundings.

The project, commissioned by the University of Chicago, uses 29 author citations in its core curriculum, or "Great Books" program, selected in collaboration with students. Most of the quotes are from women authors. Many touch on important, current topics such as justice, truth and violence – including "The cause of war is preparation for war" (W.E.B. Du Bois) and "You sit among the ruins and lament the case" (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).

"You can have the content anytime and anywhere you want," said Ms. Holzer. "If you're up early in the morning, you can have Plato or Toni Morrison in your room."

The project is also closely related to the University of Chicago campus. When the free app launches on Monday, trucks with LED lights will drive around town displaying many of the sayings. Quotes in the app are initially set to scroll across campus buildings. Only the project title (by Sappho, translated by Anne Carson) can also be placed anywhere in the camera view of their phone by users. All offers will be available on October 30th so users can virtually project wherever they want using augmented reality technology.

Ms. Holzer, who attended the University of Chicago from 1970 to 1971, said the "You Are My Ally" idea caught on after receiving the school's Rosenberger Medal last year. "I'm old and tired of myself," she said, adding that she was curious "what students would find most interesting in the core curriculum." Their role was to "sift through" texts and shorten them. She originally considered doing a light projection, "but Covid came in and we thought it wouldn't be good to invite people to stand around together."

The lighted trucks, in turn, will return to the streets of Chicago on October 24th and 30th to distribute voting bulletins written by University of Chicago students. These slogans are not as partisan as some of Holzer's work, like her latest LED display "Covid-19 President", but they are pointed. They say "Happy?" Another: "Vote because you don't want to."