Andrea Marsili


Jenny Holzer’s art revolves around outspoken texts that inhabit posters and signs, namelessly disseminated through the city. The ungendered authority voice in her first written pieces, Truisms (1977-1987) and Inflammatory Essays (1978-1982), allowed her to avoid any associations with femininity as traditionally understood, fuelling passers-by's critical reflection.

Later in her career, in parallel with her efforts to establish herself on a phallocentric art scene, Holzer’s production found placement within more institutionalised museum contexts. Nonetheless, anonymity still remains a constant in Holzer’s work and is thus not secondary to her outputs. Yet, most of the time, this was partially overlooked by scholars in favour of different conceptualisations of her work. Hence, this article aims to bridge this gap in the literature by analysing how Holzer adopted voices different from hers in the early stages of her career. The goal is to understand the rhetorical strategies she employed to find a place in a male-dominated art world and cityscape. By inquiring the self-fashioning of an unnamed identity, it will be remarked how the notion of persona is constantly evolving through time and space. It will be further argued that she appropriated authoritative voices far from her own, adapting them to address the public by proposing gestures of activism on topical issues of undoubtful relevance, directly intervening in the public space.


How to Cite
Marsili, A. (2022) “Selflessness is the Highest Achievement: Jenny Holzer Whispering against the City Walls”, The Journal of Public Space, 7(3), pp. 65–86. doi: 10.32891/jps.v7i3.1451.
Art and Activism
Author Biography

Andrea Marsili, Culture Commons Quest Office

Andrea Marsili is a researcher and cultural worker in the fields of urban creativity, sustainability and popular culture. His focus is on everyday grassroots creative artefacts and how they shape collective actions for a more ecological future. He holds a Master by Research in Cultural and Urban Sociology from Maastricht University. He currently collaborates with European Cultural Foundation (ECF) in Amsterdam and the Culture Commons Quest Office (CCQO) in Antwerp.