Charles Loring Elliott, Portrait of Matthew Vassar, 1861

Articles

Interview with Jenny Holzer

 On April 5, 2006, we reached Jenny Holzer in Dublin where she was busy doing light projections of Beckett’s prose and poetry in honor of his 100th birthday (at Trinity College, the General Post Office, Mansion House, the Clarence Hotel, and other locations).  She’s since moved on to London where she’s projecting Beckett, and a number of other poets, onto Sir Norman Foster's City Hall, Sommerset House, the Barbican Center, Senate House and St. Paul's.

Q. I drove up to Vermont to see the fabrication and sand blasting of your benches.I liked hanging out with the Socinskis, shouting over the din, eating the granite dust, and watching the big blades slice through the boulders. John said that you're "an interesting client," and Dave feels a bit like he's grown up with you in his business over the last 20 years as you've "gone on to great things." Is there something about this particular quarry or its stone that supports your artwork?

A. I've worked with John Socinski and others at RMG since the middle of the 1980s because they are kind, reliable, and competent people. I found the company from the phone book, so I was lucky! RMG buys from the various Vermont quarries and I've liked learning about and using local stone, and RMG can also supply imported materials as needed. When I first visited the company, there were a number of veterans' tombstones being lettered with the government font. This image has stayed vivid.

Q. Does the granite you chose have any significance to the work?  Do you think it will harmonize with the Vassar landscape?

A. This Laurentian granite is a practical and a handsome choice. I believe that the dark green will settle into the Vassar campus. I think this stone is a dignified and appropriate home for the Bishop poems.

Q. How have you used benches in the past?

A. I make benches when I want to find a certain way to bring text and people together. Passersby might walk to a bench to sit, and before they sit, they often read. I like how people read text in stone, and I like the associations of writing in stone.

Q. Are you using these benches in a different way?

A. What’s unique to this installation is the choice of text and the special site, and of course the relation of the writing to the place.

Q. Do you conceive of the benches at Vassar as places of rest and contemplation along a symbolic path?

A. Yes, and I hope that these benches will be attractive to and useful for students and others.

Q. What is it about this particular site on campus that you find fitting for the work?

A. President Fergusson drew my attention to these paths as especially lovely and heavily trafficked, and she was right.

Q. What first appealed to you about Elizabeth Bishop's work?

A. A friend and a poet I respect, Henri Cole, often talks about Bishop, so this has had me read her again. Bishop has been on my mind for years now, so when the Vassar commission came, I began to focus on her. My first idea was to include a number of writers from Vassar, but then I thought that the artwork would be more coherent if I worked with one poet.

Q. Did her Vassar connection influence your decision to accept the commission?

A. Yes!

Q. If it's true that the texts you choose function in part as comments on the environments they fit into, then what might Bishop's words say about the liberal arts college context?

A. I don’t want to tilt anyone’s impression of the installation by characterizing it, but I believe that Bishop’s work is a happy result of the liberal arts context, and I am certain that I benefited by my liberal arts as well as my studio education.

Q. Was it your idea to do "20 benches for 20 years"?

A. We came to this after various discussions about 15 to 20 benches, and then it made sense to have 20 benches for 20 years.

Q. Did your conception of the project change or evolve after meeting Frances Fergusson?

A. I’m not certain, because decision making about artwork remains relatively mysterious to me, but I was glad to meet the very accomplished Frances Fergusson. I don’t presume to know her now, but perhaps my impression of her precision had me think of Bishop’s.

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