by Dilpreet BhullarDec 07, 2022
Nancy Holt questioned the trained perception of the built architecture and geometrical designs, which define them, by responding to the given spaces with her site-specific art installation and the moving image. The American artist, known for the site-specific installations and moving images, was a key figure in the New York art scene. Bildmuseet is producing the exhibition Nancy Holt / Inside Outside at the art museum in Sweden in collaboration with the Holt/Smithson Foundation, and in partnership with MACBA, Barcelona. Curated by Lisa Le Feuvre (Executive Director, Holt/Smithson Foundation) and Katarina Pierre (Director, Bildmuseet), the exhibition is an extensive survey of Holt's work spanning from 1966 to 1992 in Europe. It includes film, video, photography, concrete poetry, audio works, sculpture and room-sized installations as well as drawings and documentation of her land art.
Nancy Holt / Inside Outside occupies five floors of Bildmuseet, one of Sweden’s foremost contemporary art venues, with Holt’s Ventilation System (1985-92) moving 'inside' and 'outside' of the architecture of the museum. In an interview with STIR, Le Feuvre highlights, "The architecture of Bildmuseet is wonderful – from each floor you can see out into the surrounding landscape, making this a perfect location for Nancy Holt’s artworks. In this exhibition, we have selected artworks that speak to the landscape outside, the building, and questions of perception. There are two large-scale installations in Inside Outside that form part of Holt’s System Works, sculptures that connect to architectural systems – Electrical Lighting for Reading Room and Ventilation System. The System Works deploy found systems to reveal what is there already in buildings – they use standard industrial materials designed for introducing heating, ventilation, lighting, and drainage into the built environment to expose the flows of energy that power buildings – Holt described that they expose “fragments of vast, hidden networks” that are “part of vast open-ended systems, part of the world”.”
She worked as an assistant literary editor at the magazine Harper’s Bazaar in 1960, and in 1966 started making concrete poems. Soon papers were swapped by the landscape to pen the visual language. Throughout her career as an artist, Holt was acutely attentive to measured and astronomical time as well as language and perception, and economics and energy. The research for the art installation of Sun Tunnels began in 1973 by creating Instamatic photo studies. It gauged the possibilities of how the vision could be focused through a sculpture located in a landscape devoid of buildings and roadways. These hand-sized images are juxtaposed with the large-scale photographs of Sun Tunnels made 15 years later by the photographer Richard Misrach. In the early 1970s, Holt created her Locators, the sculptures made from T-shaped industrial piping are to be looked through with one eye. Holt touted them as the “seeing devices". The locators paved the way for her path-breaking project Sun Tunnels, and the room-sized immersive installation Mirrors of Light. Despite the innovative work in the discipline of the conceptual arts, Holt as opposed to her male counterparts was unknown to many in her time. The exhibition implores to draw the spotlight on the multidisciplinary artist, otherwise retraced in her life.
The series Alaskan Pines (1986), Athabascan/Russian Orthodox Graveyards (1986) and Miami Puddles (1969) exhibited for the first time are displayed in the context of audio and moving image works which scale the travel through the North American landscape. Since the works speak about the landscape it acutely highlights the importance Holt puts on the topography of the place. Therefore in developing an exhibition of her work, the curators carefully engaged with the topographical specifics of the place where the artworks are currently on display. Consequently, the exhibition was launched at the time of the summer solstice when the city of Umeå, located close to the Arctic Circle, has white nights echoing Holt’s consistent tracing of the sun, moon, and stars in relation to our place on the planet. "Together with my co-curator Katarina Pierre we thought carefully about what it means to present Holt’s work in Northern Sweden. We selected a number of works that speak to Umeå. Holt’s wonderful photographic series Alaskan Pines from 1986 creates portraits of pine trees – when you see the works at Bildmuseet there is a distinct echo to the surrounding forests," mentions Le Feuvre.
Interestingly, the liminal space she inhabited with her kinetic art practice hints at the existential urgency faced by humans. This is addressed in the title of the exhibition Inside Outside - without a punctuation mark between the two words. The artist who worked with the element of earth and land within the framework of the conceptual art movements proportionally blurred the lines between inside/outside. One is curious to know if Holt with her artistic practice also looked at the existential crisis encountered by humans. In response to this observation, Le Feuvre explains, "Holt’s artworks are a call for reflection, for a consideration of how—to use the artist’s words—the inner and outer worlds collide. When asked what kind of artist she was, Holt would often reply that she is a perception artist. To perceive is to observe, and to reflect on how we humans find our place on the surface of the planet and to consider what the responsibilities are that come with that."
When the systems, entrenched in daily life, regulate the normative power to decipher that one overlooks its overpowering effect, Holt "issues a call to pause, observe, and rethink the structures that form our assumptions of the surrounding world," succinctly puts Le Feuvre.
The exhibition Nancy Holt/Inside Outside runs at Bildmuseet in Sweden until February 12, 2023.