PHOTOS BY WILLOW MOLLENKOPF
Jenny Holzer’s work pulls no punches. It is loud. It is intense and it is straight to the point. It is not a painting, nor a sculpture. It’s the art of words. The wall at the Wex’s newest exhibit is covered in truism, as she calls it in her artist statement. “Concise one-liners written anonymously and designed to condense difficult and contentious concepts into seemingly straightforward statements of fact,” Holzer writes.
“MONEY CREATES TASTE.”
“RELIGION CAUSES AS MANY PROBLEMS AS IT SOLVES.”
“YOU HAVE TO HURT OTHERS TO BE EXTRAORDINARY.”
“IN SOME INSTANCES IT’S BETTER TO DIE THAN CONTINUE.”
These truisms are something that most people would avoid on a first date, because it would make the worst first date ever. Well that’s what we at 1870 were going for when we set-up a blind date where their entire date was experiencing this art piece and discussing the one-liners. A date of no small talk.
First impressions of the date?
AUTHOR: My first impression of her was that she seemed forthright. Kind. Peculiar, I mean, who agrees to go on the worst first date? She seemed genuine, and it gave me the feeling that if we disagreed, she would give her opinion, but she would also listen to mine. It was refreshing, the artwork however wasn’t as kind.
DATE: At first I was skeptical of the date, especially considering it was a blind date and we were going to be talking about deep topics. Typically when I decide to go on a date with someone, it is only after becoming friends with them and developing a level of familiarity. This new territory was exciting as well as nerve wracking. My friend who set us up had told me the reason I was chosen was because she thought we would disagree and have a lively discussion which made me a little extra weary walking up to the Wex.
What was your first impression of the art piece?
A: I was initially overwhelmed by the artwork. It is floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, first floor space. The statements felt like black and white answers to questions that aren’t black and white. The hard societal questions that we scream at each other through keyboards, damning those that don’t agree with us. Some statements aren’t nearly as intense, and work as advice I’d give to anyone.
D: Upon walking up to the art piece I was mesmerized by the size. It feels dizzying to walk into a room with hundreds–if not thousands–of sentences covering the high walls. Getting closer to the piece and actually reading some of its content quickly filled me with a sense of curiosity and intrigue.
How did the discussion start?
A: We agreed on most subjects. We quickly found that the statements aren’t easy things to agree with. The first statement was “A little knowledge can go a long way.” To me, and I think to her, this was a pretty agreeable statement. It’s something I personally believe in. The follow-up was “Most professionals are crackpots,” I laughed as I agreed with this statement, but to be honest, I don’t know if I can give a good opinion on it.
D: The discussion started with the statement “A little knowledge can go a long way.” I was expecting to start disagreeing right away and mentally prepared myself for a fight. To my surprise and delight we actually agreed. After agreeing we had a really nice discussion about the topic which instantly put all my nerves at ease and made the rest of the date much more enjoyable.
Were there any disagreements on any of the statements?
A: Most of the time when we disagreed, it was because we were on the fence. I told her at one point in time I was at a six on a scale from one to ten. There was one statement in particular that we disagreed on, it was the “Raise boys and girls the same.” I didn’t think it’s possible in our society.
After I disagreed, she turned to me and said something along the lines of, “Really? I want to hear your thoughts on this,” in a tread-lightly tone. The tone was more important than what she necessarily said, and that tone had me nervous. I explained my case and we did something that I haven’t seen done in years. We saw our points of view, knowing that this statement is not the most black and white statement to agree–or disagree–with. I could be wrong, she could hate me.
D: We had disagreements on two main topics. The first disagreement was over the statement “Raise boys and girls the same way.” My argument was that as a society we absolutely should raise boys and girls the same way. My date hit back with a question of how to talk about consent later on. I told him that you can start teaching kids consent at a young age by telling them to ask before hugging or tickling their friends as a great way to start the conversation. Eventually we came to the agreement that ideally, yes, you could raise boys and girls the same way; however, with how things currently are, the socialization they receive outside of the home would ultimately cause you to need to have different conversations with the children.
Later on we disagreed over the statement “Trading a life for a life is fair enough.” He took an extreme approach saying, “Yeah, absolutely killing someone like Hitler in favor of having someone like Gahdi around.” Which I agreed with, but then brought up how such sentiments lead to state-sanctioned murders in the form of the death penalty and how much damage policies such as those have caused. Furthermore, if everyone decided to take justice into their own hands we would not have a functioning society. Eventually he brought me closer to a middle ground with a lively discussion about what would happen if your friend or family member was murdered. Overall, these disagreements didn’t reveal any severe clashes in morals, just different interpretations of the same statement.
Were there any agreements?
A: We agreed on quite a bit, more than I thought. We ended up having similar ideals and opinions on the same subjects. I tend to think that I lean a little left, and I think that she was the same. There was a statement that we agreed with easily early on and it was “Always store food” and our reaction was, “Of course.”
After looking at more statements like “Any surplus is immoral,” forced us, or me at least, to look at my own hypocrisy, and it showed us this point of view: if we store food, then we are probably taking from those that need it. Although we may be separated on how far on the spectrum we agree with that point of view. Since we both attempt to see multiple points of view, that is what I believe to be the driving force to our agreements.
D: We actually agreed more than we disagreed which was an extremely pleasant surprise. The deep discussions were a lot of fun and I really enjoyed being able to talk about the statements.
What statement did you see and were like, “Oh shoot, I really don’t want to talk about that?” How did that go?
A: With her, there was nothing that I was necessarily worried about. Everything had gone smoothly throughout the date. I understood that one misstep could blow it up, but I wasn’t worried. I don’t make missteps. That was a lie, I was worried about the statement, “Sin is a means of social control.” Anytime discussing religion comes along, it’s always difficult. There are wars over disagreements in religion. As someone who doesn’t know what to believe, it’s a minefield for discussion; this is a big misstep. My date–who I will not comment on her views of religion, because I don’t know enough–ended up agreeing with me.
D: There was one statement that stated something along the lines of hurting someone sexually is the most vile thing a person can do. I agree strongly with the statement and it is a topic that I have personal ties to and find triggering. We did end up talking about it, but the discussion was quick because we both agreed strongly.
How did this compare to other first dates?
A: I think it went better than most of my other first dates. Although the bar is low, it was a nice time. It was more intense than any other date I have had.
D: It was one of the better first dates I’ve had! I think that there is something really great about talking through the big topics because you get to know a person on a deeper level and can easily tell if their morals match yours. However, I think if we had been sitting face-to-face rather than standing in front of an art piece, the conversation would have been much more challenging. The art acted as a facilitation device that helped us navigate tough, intimate conversations without the feeling of over-exposure or vulnerability. Had we not had the art to focus on, I do not think that I would have been as honest as I was.
Do you feel like there are some advantages of having bigger topics of conversation on the first date?
A: It was really nice to get the big talks out of the way on the first date. These topics are something that will come up for any romantic relationship worth having. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree, it just means shying away from these topics can make them feel like a barrier a relationship can’t seem to break. So it was nice to just get most of it out of the way. I didn’t get to know her thoughts of pineapple and pizza though, which is a dealbreaker, but it was good to get everything else out of the way.
D: I think that getting a large amount of the big talk out of the way was a great idea. I had a really good time and felt like I got more out of it and had more fun on that first date than I have from most of my others. The last time I went on a date and we talked about all of the big topics, we lasted nearly a year and had a wonderful relationship. I don’t think that this practice is for everyone and talking about all of your deepest insecurities should probably be saved for later, but discussing big abstract topics is a really great way to get to know a person.