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Place(s) of work: Galisteo, New Mexico (us)
A key member of the Land Art movement, Nancy Holt is an artist whose works deal with the memory and perception of time and space. Like other Land Artists, Holt often uses the natural environment as both a medium and a subject for pieces that span a variety of mediums, including film, sculpture and installation. What sets Holt apart is her exploration of the celestial and cosmic, particularly the summer solstice, as well as her interest in land reclamation and re-use.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Tufts University, Holt was influenced by the artists who she knew, including Richard Serra, Michael Heizer, Nancy Graves, and most importantly Robert Smithson, whom she married in 1963 and often worked with as a collaborator until his death in 1973. Like many of her peers, Holt was drawn to the deserts of the American west, where she created such impermanent works as a Buried Poems (1969), a treasure hunt that she arranged for friends. It was in the remote Great Salt Desert of Utah, 50 miles from Smithson's 1970 Spiral Jetty, that Holt created her most iconic and lasting piece. Called Sun Tunnels, the work--made between 1973 and 1976--consists of four massive concrete pipes aligned in pairs along an axis of the rising and setting sun on a summer or winter solstice. Bored with flute-like holes to let in light, the pipes act as viewing machines for the sky, the surrounding landscape, and each other. They also furnish a cool, shady place to rest for the few visitors to see first-hand. (Like many Land Art pieces, they are intended to be experienced physically but are mostly known solely through photographs.) Holts later work often continued the themes of Sun Tunnels, such as Solar Rotary (1995), a sculptural installation at the University of South Florida that was built in relationship to the position of the sun at certain times of the year.
Holt is also interested in land reclamation, turning an otherwise useless or abandoned area of land into a public space and artwork. Dark Star Park (1984) in Arlington, Virginia, is one such example. Collaborating with an architect, engineers, and real estate developer to turn a former gas station and warehouse into a public park, Holt created a Stonehenge-like setting where every year on August 1st two large spheres in the park's center cast a shadow that lines up precisely with shadows of surrounding decorative metal poles. The alignment has become a yearly ritual in Arlington and exemplifies the ritualistic nature that many of Holt’s works possess. Another work, Sky Mound (1988-present), transforms a landfill in the New Jersey Meadowlands into an energy generator, as the methane gas produced by the decomposing garbage is harnessed and used. The land has also been reclaimed aesthetically, refashioned into a large earth mound studded with metal poles whose formation correspond to the summer and winter solstices. Explaining her interest in incorporating the ephemeral yet regular nature of a solstice in her art, Holt once explained that her works are “symbolic explorations of the passage of time and our relationship to the larger universe.”
A figure whose early public art works helped to redefine art as something that could grapple with serious environmental issues and effect real change, Holt has created a body of work that has been becoming increasingly influential in the light of growing environmental concerns. Holt lives and works in Galisteo, New Mexico, where she is also the executor of Robert Smithson's estate.
Watch Swamp, a 1971 collaboration between Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson in which Holt walks through tall reeds with her vision restricted to a camera's viewfinder, following Smithson's verbal directions:
Watch Boomerang, Nancy Holt's 1974 collaboration with Richard Serra:(read less)
Techniques & Media: Film and Video Art, Installation, Photography, Sculpture
Inspirations & Key Themes: cosmos, earth, ecology, Nature, summer solstice, universe
Influenced : Olafur Eliasson
Worked with : Michael Heizer , Richard Serra , Robert Smithson
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