Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays 3


Jenny Holzer (American, b. 1950)

Inflammatory Essays 3, 1982/2002

Medium: Tri-color mini-LED sign

Dimensions: 10.1 x 12.7 x 3.8 cm (4 x 5 x 1.5 in)

Edition of 100: Hand signed and numbered

Condition: Very good



In stock

A cruel but ancient law demands an eye for an eye. Murder must be answered by execution. Only God has the right to take a life and when someone breaks this law he will be punished. Justice must come swiftly. It doesn’t help anyone to stall. The victim’s family cries out for satisfaction, the community begs for protection and the departed craves vengeance so he can rest. The killer knew in advance there was no excuse for his act, truly he has taken his own life. He, not society, is responsible for his fate. He alone stands guilty and damned.

A real torture would be to build a sparkling cage with 2-way mirrors and steel bars. In there would be good-looking and young girls who’ll think they’re in a regular motel room so they’ll take their clothes off and do the delicate things that girls do when they’re sure they’re alone. Everyone who watches will go crazy because they won’t be believing what they’re seeing but they’ll see the bars and know they can’t get in. And, they’ll be afraid to make a move because they don’t want to scare the girls away from doing the delicious things they’re doing.

Because there is no god someone must take responsibility for men. A charismatic leader is imperative. He can subordinate the small wills to the great one. His strength and his vision redeem men. His perfection makes them grateful. Life itself is not sacred, there is no dignity in the flesh. Undirected men are content with random, squalid, pointless lives. The leader gives direction and purpose. The leader forces great accomplishments, mandates peace and repels outside aggressors. He is the architect of destiny. He demands absolute loyalty. He merits unquestioning devotion. He asks the supreme sacrifice. He is the only hope.

Change is the basis of all history, the proof of vigor. The old is soiled and disgusting by nature. Stale food is repellent, monogamous love breeds contempt, senility cripples the government that is too powerful too long. Upheaval is desirable because fresh, untainted groups seize opportunity. Violent overthrow is appropriate when the situation is intolerable. Slow modification can be effective; men change before they notice and resist. The decadent and the powerful champion continuity. “Nothing essential changes.” That is a myth. It will be refuted. The necessary birth convulsions will be triggered. Action will bring the evidence to your doorstep.

Child molestation is abhorrent; this deviation is universally condemned. All people are sickened and enraged by the act. It is telling that prisoners, who are not known for their high standards, ostracize and kill child molesters. No punishment is too severe; child molesters have robbed the babies of their innocence, the most precious possession of childhood. Molestation leaves spiritual, emotional and physical wounds that may never heal. The frightening aspect of the abuse is that molested children often become child molesters. The awful cycle must be stopped before any more children are defiled and ruined. Molesters should be rendered impotent.

Destroy superabundance. Starve the flesh, shave the hair, expose the bone, clarify the mind, define the will, restrain the senses, leave the family, flee the church, kill the vermin, vomit the heart, forget the dead. Limit time, forgo amusement, deny nature, reject acquaintances, discard objects, forget truths, dissect myth, stop motion, block impulse, choke sobs, swallow chatter. Scorn joy, scorn touch, scorn tragedy, scorn liberty, scorn constancy, scorn hope, scorn exaltation, scorn reproduction, scorn variety, scorn embellishment, scorn release, scorn rest, scorn sweetness, scorn light. It’s a question of form as much as function. It is a matter of revulsion.

Don’t talk down to me. Don’t be polite to me. Don’t try to make me feel nice. Don’t relax. I’ll cut the smile off your face. You think I don’t know what’s going on. You think I’m afraid to react. The joke’s on you. I’m biding my time, looking for the spot. You think no one can reach you, no one can have what you have. I’ve been planning while you’re playing. I’ve been saving while you’re spending. The game is almost over so it’s time you acknowledge me. Do you want to fall not ever knowing who took you?

Fear is the most elegant weapon, your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds and beliefs, play insecurities like a piano. Be creative in approach. Force anxiety to excruciating levels or gently undermine the public confidence. Panic drives human herds over cliffs; an alternative is terror induced immobilization. Fear feeds on fear. Put this efficient process in motion. Manipulation is not limited to people. Economic, social and democratic institutions can be shaken. It will be demonstrated that nothing is safe, sacred or sane. There is no respite from horror. Absolutes are quicksilver. Results are spectacular.

Freedom is it! You’re so scared, you want to lock up everybody. ARE THEY MAD DOGS? ARE THEY OUT TO KILL? Maybe yes. IS LAW, IS ORDER THE SOLUTION? Definitely no. WHAT CAUSED THE SITUATION? Lack of freedom. WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Let people fulfill their needs. IS FREEDOM CONSTRUCTIVE OR IS IT DESTRUCTIVE? The answer is obvious. Free people are good, productive people. IS LIBERATION DANGEROUS? Only when overdue. People aren’t born rabid or berserk. When you punish and shame you cause what you dread. WHAT TO DO? Let it explode. Run with it. Don’t control or manipulate. Make amends.

It all has to burn, it’s going to blaze. It is filthy and can’t be saved. A couple of good things will burn with the rest but it’s O.K., every piece is part of the ugly whole. Everything conspires to keep you hungry and afraid for your babies. Don’t wait any longer. Waiting is weakness, weakness is slavery. Burn down the system that has no place for you, rise triumphant from the ashes. Fire purifies and releases energy. Fire gives heat and light. Let fire be the celebration of your deliverance. Let lightning strike, let the flames devour the enemy!

It’s mostly love that makes you look at fine ankles and then break them. The ankle is where the moving power of the leg tapers to an exquisite stem of bone. Sadly, the foot comes next, anchoring wonderful creatures to the dirt. Deer, wading birds and the best people have fine ankles. It’s good to crack their supports so they’ll fall down in a lovely curl. Then you’ll care for them so they will be free from all crassness and struggle. You’ll watch the shattered ankles heal and meanwhile, the creatures live in a state of grace and suspended animation.

MONDAY, someone died because he hurt me so I cut him without thinking. TUESDAY, some animal dies because he was too dangerous to be free. WEDNESDAY, a thief died so everyone will know to respect private property. THURSDAY, some politico died because his ideas were crazy and too contagious. FRIDAY, some rapist died because he left his victim wishing she was dead. He had to die wishing he was alive. SATURDAY, I killed a condemned man so no one else would get blood on their hands. SUNDAY, I rested. MONDAY, six people jumped me so I cut them without thinking.

Natural man lived in the Garden of Eden. This is a lesson to us – this destroys the notion of progress unless you mean progress toward the bomb. It is fair to say that simplicity is smart. Primitive stone age tribes have been discovered recently – they have little battles but mostly they relax, make love and eat. They have unlimited leisure time. They live in harmony with nature. They have illnesses but they are playful and content. We’re doing it wrong – all our inventions and improvements are lies. All our sacrifices have been in vain. We should run, not walk, backward.

Only my brother men know my secrets. Only their hearts beat the same cadence. Only brothers speak in the special voice and plan raids to stop the spreading insolence of the slave race. Only brother men wear the robes and become greater than their individual selves. In dark and breathless silence brother men mingle the blood, seal the pact, start the hunt, circle the slave. Brother men crack the hush and swing a torch toward terrified eyes. Brother men light a fire to celebrate victory over slaves who never should have been born, who once born must serve and obey.

People must pay for what they hold, for what they steal. You have lived off the fat of the land. Now you are the pig who is ready for slaughter. You are the old enemy, the new victim. When you do something awful expect retribution in kind. Look over your shoulder. Someone is following. The poor you have robbed and ignored are impatient. Plead innocent; your squeals invite torture. Promise to be good; your lies excite and inflame. You are too depraved to reform, too treacherous to spare, too hideous for mercy. Run! Jump! Hide! Provide sport for the hunters.

Prejudice isn’t all wrong. It can be abused but it can be functional. Citizen groups should let prejudice define the unique and the desirable characteristics of their collectiveness. “Them vs. Us” provides cohesiveness (you have to know what you’re not). When you know what you are you can concentrate on essentials. No time is wasted on fighting and suspicion. Men who identify with each other are sure to work together harmoniously and profitably. People love their own image. People unite against common enemies. Prejudice is a survival mechanism in a hostile world. It is a bitter pill but good medicine. 

Rejoice! Our times are intolerable. Take courage, for the worst is a harbinger of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of the oppressors. The old and corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Opposition identifies and isolates the enemy. Conflict of interest must be seen for what it is. Do not support palliative gestures; they confuse the people and delay the inevitable confrontation. Delay is not tolerated for it jeopardizes the well-being of the majority. Contradiction will be heightened, the reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom.

Repressing sex urges is so bad. Poison dams up inside and then it must come out. When sex is held back too long it comes out fast and wild. It can do a lot of harm. Innocent people get shot or cut by confused sex urges. They don’t know what hit them until too late. Parents should let children express themselves so they don’t get mean early. Adults should make sure they find many outlets. All people should respond to big sex needs. Don’t make fun of individuals and send them away. It’s better to volunteer than to get forced.

Ruin your fucking self before they do. Otherwise they’ll screw you because you’re a nobody. They’ll keep you alive but you’ll have to crawl and say “thank-you” for every bone they throw. You might as well stay drunk or shoot junk and be a crazy fucker. If the rich guys want to play with you, make them get their hands dirty. Send them away gagging, or sobbing if they’re soft-hearted. You’ll be left alone if you’re frightening, and dead you’re free! You can change the radiant child in you to a reflection of the shit you were meant to serve. 

Sentimentality delays the removal of the politically backward and the organically unsound. Rigorous selection is mandatory in social and genetic engineering. Incorrect merciful impulses postpone the cleansing that precedes reform. Short-term niceties must yield to long-range necessity. Morals will be revised to meet the requirements of today. Meaningless platitudes will be pulled from tongues and minds. Words like `purge’ and `euthanasia’ deserve new connotations. They should be recognized as the rational public policies they are. The greatest danger is not excessive zeal but undue hesitation. We will learn to imitate nature. Her kills nourish strong life. Squeamishness is the crime.

Shriek when the pain hits during interrogation. Reach into the Dark Ages to find a sound that is liquid horror, a sound of the brink where man stops and the beast and nameless cruel forces begin. Scream when your life is threatened. Form a noise so true that your tormentor recognizes it as a voice that lives in his own throat. The true sound tells him that he cuts his flesh when he cuts yours, that he cannot thrive after he tortures you. Scream that he destroys all kindness in you and blackens every vision you could have shown him.

Snakes are evil incarnate. They are a manifestation of the dark side of nature. They lie twined in damp places, their bodies cold to the touch. The form of the snake is dreadful; the tongue and worm-body inspire loathing. The serpent is sly, he abides where you know not. He comes crawling to bite and poison. He has multiplied so he infests the face of the earth. He is not content to be, he must corrupt that which is pure. The appearance of the serpent signifies all is lost. He is a symbol of our failure and our fate.

Some fools think money is filthy, they confuse etiquette and economics. They internalize the social code of the rich, who pretend money is dirty, and make it an ethic. Poor folk who reject money are masochistic (or suffering from sour grapes). They stay in chains by remaining “pure” and broke, they doggedly undermine their future. Wealthy idealists who spurn money squander power and abdicate their position of responsibility. They become nonentities and fade away. Money is life, it is not a moral issue. One must cope with fiscal reality if one wishes to be of consequence. The poor are irrelevant.

THE END OF THE U.S.A. All you rich fuckers see the beginning of the end and take what you can while you can. You imagine that you will get away, but you’ve shit in your own bed and you’re the one to sleep in it. Why should everyone else stay behind and smell your stinking cowardice? Here’s a message to you – space travel is uncertain and any refuge of yours can be blown off the map. There’s no other place for you to go. Know that your future is with us so don’t give us more reasons to hate you.

The most exquisite pleasure is domination. Nothing can compare with the feeling. The mental sensations are even better than the physical ones. Knowing you have power has to be the biggest high, the greatest comfort. It is complete security, protection from hurt. When you dominate somebody you’re doing him a favor. He prays someone will control him, take his mind off his troubles. You’re helping him while helping yourself. Even when you get mean he likes it. Sometimes he’s angry and fights back but you can handle it. He always remembers what he needs. You always get what you want.

There is an order. Someone is taking care of us. It doesn’t seem to be a painless arrangement but it ensures that one day follows the next, that there is always another chance. In quiet moments one can sense the flow and join with the irresistible sequence of events. This is a source of comfort; we can feel we’re part of a larger plan. Ultimately, we aren’t responsible for the course of the world; it is a larger enterprise. We must, however, conduct ourselves humanely. Knowing that we are so very safe helps us relax and do just thus.

Thou art that kind of privileged woman who is really really sure that nothing will ever happen to thee. Thou imagine that thou art sacred, that they body is a temple where none but the anointed may enter. Surprise! Thy temple gates are about to be opened. Before thou can shiver, everyone will be exploring thy secret altar. Free admission! Thou will be common property, everyone’s whore, before thou art used-up, messed-up and thrown in a pile with other junk that used to look good but is useless. It is thine own fault. Thou thought thou were better than us.

What scares peasants is thinking their bodies will be thrown out in public and left to rot. They feel shame – as if it matters what position their legs are in when they’re dead. Lucky they’re superstitious because they’re easier to manage. Make an example of 2 or 3 rebels, drop their bodies by a road, get them flat and dry so bones show and the grass wears the clothes. Shoot the fingers off anyone who comes to collect the remains. Those bodies stay as a sign of absolute authority. If peasants think that their souls can’t rest, so much the better.

When you start to like pain things get interesting. Pain is the common result of a subordinate position. Traditionally, suffering is uncomfortable and undesirable. Perhaps it is more intelligent to cultivate pain as a means of liberation? Is it possible that enjoyment of pain can be subversive? When one does not fear pain, one cannot be manipulated. When aroused by suffering, one can control any relationship. When agony ceases to be a barrier, death is not forbidding. The implications are marvellous. Pain is not oppressive, but strengthening and most sublime. It is necessary only to deny the pleasure/pain dichotomy.

You get amazing sensations from guns. You get results from guns. Man is an aggressive animal; you have to have a good offense and a good defense. Too many citizens think they are helpless. They leave everything to the authorities and this causes corruption. Responsibility should go back where it belongs. It is your life so take control and feel vital. There may be some accidents along the path to self-expression and self-determination. Some harmless people will be hurt. However, G-U-N spells pride to the strong, safety to the weak and hope to the hopeless. Guns make wrong right fast.

You get so you don’t even notice the half-dead vagrants on the street. They’re only dirty ghosts. The ones who send shivers down your spine are the unemployed who aren’t weak yet. They still can fight and run when they want to. They still think, and they know when they hate you. You won’t be a pretty sight if they go for you. When you’re out walking, you look at the men for signs of lingering health and obvious hatred. You even watch the fallen ones who might make a last move, who might claw your ankle and take you down.

You’re an avenger, a death angel. You kill people who ask for it, who deserve to die. You’re a watch dog, a protector of things decent. Your comforts are sacrificed for efficiency – you can’t do what has to be done with people moaning and clinging to you, you can’t strike with possessions weighing you down. You have a clear head and no regrets. You can take out anyone because you’re stripped down and you don’t depend on or trust a soul. You are effective because you don’t love anybody or anything. You’re a one-man force, the perfect instrument of destiny.“

– Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays, 1979-1982


Jenny Holzer is a political artist and activist, best known for her text-based public art projects. In her practice Holzer explores how language is used as both a form of communication and a means of concealment. She has a long-held interest in the power and language of advertising, which has resulted in the main focus of her work being the delivery of ideas via words in public places. These projects, which she installs on billboards and buildings, are easily mistaken for advertising, and are aimed at agitating and disturbing. With phrases such as “protect me from what I want” and “abuse of power comes as no surprise”, Jenny Holzer ponders issues of consumerism, death, decay, and abuse. In doing so, both the message and the medium are significant. On why she uses language as her main form of communicating her message Holzer said: “I used language because I wanted to offer content that people — not necessarily art — people could understand.” Jenny Holzer is also known for her printmaking practice, in which she also encourages audiences to think critically about the power of language, that which is spoken, and that which remains unspoken. She has won numerous awards, including the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale (1990) and has held solo shows at ICA, London (1988),  Guggenheim Museum, New York (1989), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2001, 2011), Barbican Centre, London (2006), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2009), Foundation Beyeler, Basel (2009), Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2019), and Tate (2019). Jenny Holzer was born 1950 in Gallipolis, Ohio and currently lives in New York.

Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays 3

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