Half of 'For Science' sculpture by Jenny Holzer, 2020. A silver cloud granite bench with the text 'What kind of life exists without language?' in capital letters sand-blasted down the centre of the bench seat. This is a conceptual artwork by Holzer, working in New York, fabricated by Carnevale and Lohr in Bell Gardens, California.
Holzer is one of the most significant artists working today, particularly known for her works incorporating pithy, often political, statements displayed in the public realm. Beginning with posters displayed in Times Square New York in the 1970s, her works have since ranged from T-shirts and plaques, to large light projections and stone carvings. She challenges ignorance and violence, championing art as a tool for public good.
Holzer was commissioned to produce a new piece for the Science Museum’s ‘Faith, Hope and Fear’ gallery within ‘Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries’ in 2020. Her response, ‘For Science’, offers two inscribed benches as a place for respite and reflection. They are constructed from silver cloud granite, chosen to evoke memorials and monuments. The texts are taken from Susan Sontag’s ‘Illness as Metaphor’ from 1978 and Paul Kalanithi’s ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ from 2016. Both authors wrote in response to living with cancer, Holzer describes “their thinking about illness [as] expansive and frank.”
‘What kind of life exists without language?’ is a poignant question from Kalanithi’s memoir, published after his death from lung cancer. A successful Indian-American neurosurgeon, his diagnosis flipped his experience from that of doctor to patient and led him to reflect on the morality and ethical decisions integral to being a doctor. His quotation comes from thoughts on the deep responsibility of a surgeon when conducting brain surgery and the need to understand what each patient holds central to their identity.
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- (c) 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Commissioned for the Medicine Galleries by Science Museum Group. Commission and acquisition made possible with Art Fund support. With additional thanks to the Henry Moore Foundation.
- Holzer, Jenny