Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Artist Jenny Holzer brings poems of Szymborska to Portland

Last night, New York conceptual artist Jenny Holzer projected the poems of Wislawa Szymborska onto the surface of the Portland Museum of Art, on Congress Street. Holzer has traveled around the world doing just this, using various brick building landscapes as her canvas for showcasing works of social justice. She titled last night's free poetry-projection event, "For Portland."

Szymborska is a Nobel-Prize winning poet from Poland, whose socially conscious work has frequently been adopted by peace and justice activists. Her poem "Torture" was one of the featured works projected onto the museum.

The poem reads as follows:

Torture by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is painful,
it must eat, breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin, with blood right beneath,
it has a goodly supply of teeth and nails
its bones are brittle, its joints extensible.
In torture, all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body trembles, as it trembled
before and after the founding of Rome,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ. Torture is, as it's always been, only the earth has shrunk, and whatever happens, feels like it happens next door.

Nothing has changed. Only there are more people,
next to old transgressions, new ones have appeared
real, alleged, momentary, none,
but the scream, the body's response to them-- was, is, and always will be the scream of innocence, in accord with the age-old scale and register.

Nothing has changed.
Except maybe manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the gesture of arms shielding the head
has remained the same.
The body writhes, struggles, and tries to break away.
Bowled over, it falls, pulls in its knees,
bruises, swells, drools, and bleeds.

Nothing has changed.
Except for the courses of rivers,
the contours of forests, seashores, deserts and icebergs.
Among these landscapes the poor soul winds,
vanishes, returns, approaches, recedes.
A stranger to itself, evasive,
at one moment sure, the next unsure of its existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has no place to go.

1 comment:

  1. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont when I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site,, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?