U of C Commissions Jenny Holzer's AR Public Artwork During Pandemic

OF WAR, 2017 Virtual reality appInstallation: SOFTER: Jenny Holzer at Blenheim Palace, Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, 2017© 2017 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NYPhoto: Tom Lindboe


VOTE YOUR FUTURE, 2018 © 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. With March For Our Lives. Photo: Collin LaFleche

Via PR

CHICAGO (Sept. 10, 2020)—The University of Chicago (UChicago) will debut a new public art commission by world-renowned artist and alumna Jenny Holzer (EX’74), YOU BE MY ALLY, premiering October 5 on the UChicago campus andworldwide 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. Starting October 5, 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.

Text selections from the Core curriculum will also be featured on LED trucks driving throughout the UChicago campus, South Side, and downtown communities October 5 and 6, bringing the experience to diverse audiences in an unexpected manner. Text excerpts for the project were selected in collaboration with UChicago students and faculty. 

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.


Artist bio 

For more than 40 years, Jenny Holzer has presented her astringent ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, a plaque, or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work. Starting in the 1970s with the New York City posters and continuing through her recent light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has rivaled ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, and courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award in 1996, the U.S. State Department’s International Medal of Arts in 2017, and the University of Chicago’s Rosenberger Medal in 2019. She studied at the University of Chicago in 1970–71 and holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College. She lives and works in New York.


About UChicago Arts and the University of Chicago

UChicago Arts is the University of Chicago’s robust cultural scene where scholars, students, artists, and audiences converge, explore, and create. UChicago Arts connects and amplifies the impact of the University’s nearly 100 arts organizations, initiatives, and academic programs, bringing together the efforts of students, faculty, artists, and community partners to infuse creativity throughout the intellectual life on campus while solidifying the University’s role as a cultural destination and resource on Chicago’s South Side. For more information about UChicago Arts, visit 

The University of Chicago is a leading academic and research institution that has driven new ways of thinking since its founding in 1890. As an intellectual destination, the University draws scholars and students from around the world to its campus in Hyde Park and to its centers around the globe. The University provides a distinctive educational experience and research environment, empowering individuals to challenge conventional thinking and pursue research that produces new understanding and breakthroughs with global impact. In 2017, the University launched an Urban Architecture and Design Initiative to highlight and grow curricular and research strengths in these fields.

The Core curriculum: The cornerstone of the University of Chicago College’s transformative curriculum, the Core prepares undergraduates to explore and debate complex ideas with faculty and peers. Through sequences in the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and biological sciences, as well as a sequence in the historical development of a civilization, students engage with the language, questions, and methods that characterize broad fields of inquiry. The goal is to engage students with the range of insights, habits of mind, and academic experiences that can enrich their own reflections and activities in the world—while at UChicago and after they graduate.