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Declassified words get an airing — on buildings

Artist Jenny Holzer reveals documents in New York City art project
/ Source: The Associated Press

Poems and declassified documents will scroll across landmark city buildings over the next 10 nights in a public art project by Jenny Holzer, whose provocative use of words as art is in part a response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“For the City” began Thursday with selections from international poets projected onto three buildings in Rockefeller Center. White words in block letters rose upward on darkened walls.

Following the Rockefeller Center installation, which runs through Oct. 2, government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act will be projected onto the Bobst Library at New York University Oct. 3 through 5, and poems will illuminate the New York Public Library Oct. 6 through 9.

Many of the declassified documents relate to treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, Holzer said Thursday.

“For a couple of years, I’ve been looking at these as a way of educating myself about American foreign policy or about conditions in the various camps where detainees are held,” she said. “I find the documents to be especially immediate because they’re written by people in the thick of things.”

Response to 9/11Poems by Wislawa Szymborska, Yehuda Amichai and others also deal with the state of the world.

“Sorrow everywhere,” begins “A Brief for the Defense” by the American Jack Gilbert. “Slaughter everywhere. If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else.”

Holzer said the work is in part a response to 9/11.

“I wasn’t able to find an answer about how to memorialize 9/11 or what to say next, so I went to these wonderful poets who are much more articulate and concise than I and found things that I thought might be of interest to the people of New York,” she said.

Holzer, 55, has used light projections in previous works in New York as well as in Brazil, France, Germany and elsewhere.

The texts are projected across the buildings at about the speed of movie credits.

The current installation, which will be seen from dusk to midnight each night, is being presented under the auspices of the public art organization Creative Time with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.