The University of Chicago commissions Jenny Holzer to create new text-based public artwork
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The University of Chicago commissions Jenny Holzer to create new text-based public artwork
YOU BE MY ALLY, 2020. Augmented reality app. © 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo credit Chris Dilts.

CHICAGO, IL.- The University of Chicago debuted a new public art commission by world-renowned artist and alumna Jenny Holzer (EX’74), YOU BE MY ALLY, on the UChicago campus and worldwide through a web-based augmented reality app. The text-based artwork is Holzer’s first augmented reality (AR) project using virtual projections in the United States and her first work created in collaboration with a university’s students and faculty. Holzer received UChicago’s Rosenberger Medal in 2019 in recognition of her wide-reaching impact on public art.

YOU BE MY ALLY features 29 excerpts from historically significant readings from UChicago’s Core curriculum, including works by distinguished writers W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf. The title of the project itself is an excerpt from If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, a translation by classicist Anne Carson that is among the Core readings. Viewers can access a free, web-based AR app to virtually project and animate these texts on the facades of architecturally significant UChicago buildings. In addition, app users will be able to project the title quote onto their surroundings anywhere in the world. On October 30, additional quotations will become available to project anywhere.

Another component of Holzer’s work will incorporate original texts in support of nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts. These texts, selected by Holzer from various sources including submissions by UChicago students, will be displayed on LED trucks driven throughout the city on October 24 and 30.

YOU BE MY ALLY operates at the edge of arts and technology, responding to the challenges of participation in the arts during a pandemic. It enables a broad audience to engage these historic texts, and to consider the impact of public speech in a democracy in the weeks and days leading up to the 2020 election.

“Ever since her early—1995!—creation of an interactive internet artwork, I have admired Jenny Holzer’s resolute mobilization of viewer participation and unexpected media, now including AR app technology,” said Christine Mehring, the Mary L. Block Professor in the Department of Art History and an adjunct curator at the Smart Museum of Art. “Jenny is known for the fiercely critical interventions in public space that lead her to seize those media, but hers is a profoundly generous art all the same: inviting our students to submit content, welcoming the full campus community and general public to engage in the kind of close reading we teach at UChicago, opening the boundaries of academic discourse and a liberal arts education, providing a safe and meaningful experience of art amidst the converging contexts of the pandemic, calls for social justice, and the election season.”

AR experiences for YOU BE MY ALLY will be hosted on the web platform 8th Wall and can be activated by users at specific points outside buildings on the UChicago campus: Cobb Lecture Hall (designed by Henry Ives Cobb), D’Angelo Law Library (Eero Saarinen), Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (Tod Williams and Billie Tsien), Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (Helmut Jahn), School of Social Service Administration (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), Cummings Life Science Center (I. W. Colburn), and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel (Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue). Off campus, viewers can experience the work by accessing the app on 8th Wall. Holzer’s projects have long been inextricably linked to the built environment of their settings. YOU BE MY ALLY will invite viewers to interact with their surroundings and forge new cultural and architectural meanings from the juxtapositions of historic texts and lived urban environments.

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