While gun violence remains a global issue, it is particularly prevalent in the United States. This epidemic affects all people in this country, regardless of background, but presents a disproportionate threat to women and people of color. The pervasiveness of gun violence in schools has shaped a reality for the youth of this country that includes active shooter training alongside Algebra and Literature. As of October, nearly 30,000 people have lost their lives to gun violence in the United States this year alone. Gun violence in the U.S. is becoming accepted as commonplace, but this is not normal. We need to remember that the widespread casualties in this nation due to firearms should not, and need not, be happening.
VIGIL, a new commission by Jenny Holzer, sheds light on gun violence by foregrounding the voices of those directly affected by this issue. Drawing on text from Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, stories from Moments that Survive collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, and poems by teens who have grown up in the shadow of mass shootings, VIGIL emphasizes the unique human toll. Holzer intentionally shifts away from the statistics that have come to dominate the news and transforms our understanding of the national devastation wrought by gun violence.
Projected onto one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City, VIGIL speaks to the massive impact gun violence has not only on individuals, but the very fabric of communities and cities. The text encroaches on the facades and windows of these buildings, surrounding the viewer and enveloping the city in messages of light. Through the project, the city itself is transformed.
The scrolling words of Holzer’s projections demand that the audience reads them. This strategy denies passive engagement, as viewers internalize these messages by hearing the text in their own voice. It is not possible to let these words just wash over. Since 1991, Holzer has used this technique to address such issues as domestic violence, war, and the corruption of power. Throughout her career, she has aimed to bring to light that which is hidden. In her ongoing project It Is Guns, trucks equipped with LED screens share pointed texts by the artist similarly addressing gun violence. Holzer expands upon these issues in VIGIL, magnifying her messages from the street to the cityscape.
VIGIL is Creative Time’s third collaboration with Holzer. From 2004–2005, Creative Time presented For New York City: Planes and Projections and For the City, a two-part project that featured Holzer’s texts flown in the sky and projected onto various NYC landmarks, including Rockefeller Center. Holzer was also one of 25 artists who participated in The 42nd Street Art Project in 1993, which transformed Manhattan’s historic West 42nd Street into a dynamic, around-the-clock public art exhibition.
VIGIL also coincides with the ten-year anniversary of the Creative Time Summit, our annual multi-day convening that aims to break down silos while addressing complex social issues. The theme of this year’s Summit is speaking truth to power. It is fitting that under this theme we look at the reality of gun violence and how it has come to shape the people of this country. We as a nation are a work in progress. In order to envision a better tomorrow, we must confront the ugly truths of today. It is through understanding that we may take informed action.
– Justine Ludwig
New York City