published in HUSK Magazine Fall/Winter 2013, p. 12-13

Surveillance, Search and Destroy, Bleed Us Dry – the universe Kruger depicts is threatening but arresting, almost sexy. Her artworks demand: 'KISS IT' and 'Give me all you've got'.

'Pleasure' and 'Disgust' are the words that embellish, cover and destroy Barbara Kruger's underlying images. And it is funny how, for the very first time, words become stronger than the image, directing our perception and interpretation of that image. An image that could be anything. A sink, a hair brush, a box of pralines. Who cares? Or should we really care? Are those powerful, big letters simple but well-calculated distractions? Planned anti-manoeuvres? Barbara is, in fact, attacking us. And she is not even hiding her cruel intention – as an early artwork from 1989 announces: 'Your body is a battleground'. Your body is her battleground.

So what is this very personal fight directed towards? The word 'horror' appears several times within Kruger's oeuvre. Hands appear as motif several times. The word 'You' appears several times. Seemingly, obviously Barbara wants to turn her fight into 'our' fight. She asks us to take that horror, to take that terrible future, that global history into our own hands. So what does this horror constitute itself of? The world of advertising and consumption delivers just the visual means Barbara takes advantage of. She uses their symbols and tricks. Messages that can be read from far away. Short messages that are to be understood within seconds. Big messages that become images in themselves. Bright messages, white letters in red boxes, that cannot be missed. The background image is usually a catalogue cutout or film still, stolen material, stolen techniques of mass communication.
So, if advertising is not the actual topic of her campaign as many have falsely implied, what is the bigger message, the bigger picture? What happens when we put all her cut-and-past collage works next to each other? What happens when we cut-and-paste every motif as one continuous film sequence?

Barbara did exactly that. Her latest work is moving towards the moving image, some call it 'video work'. In 2010, Kruger released 'The Globe Shrinks' – following her video installation 'Twelve' from 2004 which featured interview situations and, most importantly, subtitles. Beautiful, meaningful subtitles. Now, instead of placing one sentence on top of one image, Kruger places conversations and personal quotes onto a multitude of flickering images. The single person, the 'You' and 'I', suddenly becomes part of 'He', 'She' and 'They'. Slowly, we realise what this shift is about: society. So-ci-e-ty. Can an abstract idea like 'society' ever be the core topic for one work of art? Is the single word 'society' ever enough to describe the intention of an artist?

Indeed, we know it all too well: the misunderstood, suffering artist, caught in his very own misery and conflict with the surrounding world. When Barbara Kruger asks us 'Are we having fun yet?', she implies that the principle of the genius artist does not hold relevance anymore. In fact, she is quoting the clownish comic character Zippy the Pinhead, 1979. 'His' and 'her' pathetic, sarcastic remark is directly directed towards us: the beholders, the visitors, the readers. Suddenly, the artist's struggle is dissolving into one collective moaning. We are unhappy. Does Barbara put the blame on us? Of course she does.