Nancy Holt, Video still from East Coast/West Coast (with Robert Smithson), 1969
This week Dan and Ashley introduced a somewhat biographical look at the artists Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt. We were given the unique opportunity to look into these artists lives and see how they worked together. Often the readings are about artists existing and working in the same era, but it is truly a rare opportunity to get to se a pair of artists who inspire each other as closely as Smithson and Holt. These artists created some of the most mammoth earthworks we have studied so far. In a more modern era, these artists are using the idea of the spirit of place and incorporating new themes. They are letting the land define the art and using their western experiences as influences.
Robert Smithson and the building of Spiral Jetty, 1970
Smithson was inspired by the West but worked mainly from New York City. He used his inspirations and went on these quests to find the “right” places for his work. One of the most interesting characteristics of Robert Smithson was that it wasn’t about the work so much as the place. He let the place inspire what the work did. In the building of the Spiral Jetty, he was driven to find a place with red water to build an earthwork. From the readings we transcribed that the spiral form was a projection from the environment (both literally and figuratively). Smithson was also interested in the idea of entropy. Which is when the earth claims the earth. Massive earthworks, such as Spiral Jetty, involve disrupting the earth’s natural environment. Over time, the earth will reclaim this. Other than Spiral Jetty, Smithson spent his career creating work base on the idea of altering landscape and how the earth would react to what he was doing to it as well. After his Death Nancy took it upon herself to finish out the plans Robert had designed for an earthwork titled Amarillo Ramp.
Gianfranco Gorgoni, Nancy Holt filming the construction of Amarillo Ramp, 1973
Nancy Holt, who was married to Robert Smithson, was traveling out west with him when she fell in love with the landscape. Before then she was a photographer and a filmmaker. She was a visual artist and visual person who took in the beauty and majesty of the aesthetic of the west. Unlike NYC, where they spend most of their time, the desolate west was open, with lots of light and sweeping views. Nancy was inspired by the way she could frame out spaces in the open landscape. This was the driving motivation for the majority of her career as an earthwork artist. Later on, she became interested in the green side of earthworks. She made pieces, still involving the same sculptural elements she has used in the past but in new ways; to bring awareness to reclaiming the earth. Many of her earthworks also tend to deal with time, which is something she adopted from her career in photography and film.
Nancy Holt, Detail of Sunlight in Sun Tunnels, 1976
Both Nancy and Robert contemplated the space they used with their work. Robert chose the Great Salt Lake to build this jetty. Viewers have to take a long pilgrimage to come see it and at the end of that pilgrimage, it may not even be visible or okay to walk on. Nancy’s earlier work did the same Sun Tunnels involved a long pilgrimage into the middle of the desert. A lot of time is needed to appreciate all this piece has to offer. During our discussion we really emphasized the intimate experience that is needed to be had with the Earthworks created by both Smithson and Holt. Time, space, light, and imagery are all important aspects of how each of these artists worked. We were able to understand these artists much more easily because they are more modern. We were also able to connect their work and philosophies back to other lessons, which was really awesome. A greater understanding of something comes from learning from multiple viewpoints.
Dan Martens and Ashley Vandervelde