mirror, mirror - who is the fairest ? ... [Nancy]

Nancy Holt, Hydra's Head 1974

It's International Women's Day today, and this seems a most apt opportunity to reflect for a moment on an inspiring artist whose death, life and art seem to me to have been noted by too few. 
Nancy Holt.  

Holt's life took its inevitable final trajectory on 8th February this year, and I commenced my searches online to see how her art and life were celebrated with her passing.  What surprised me was that although she has been an artist whom I have long considered an enormous inspiration, and the body of work she has produced to be a rare combination of attention to aesthetic, conceptual and scientific detail, her death seemed to be acknowledged by a fortunate few ardent followers and institutions. 

Holt was a female artist whose artwork and output has at least equalled, if not bettered that of her contemporaries [Richard Serra, Michael Heizer, James Turrell] - and her death came at the age of seventy-five with an incredible body of work behind her; yet she seems to have been denied the considerable profile these male artists have been granted.  This seems particularly pertinent in relation to her long-deceased husband, Robert Smithson - whom, in spite of his early and sudden death at the age of thirty-five in 1973, has been the subject of any number of retrospectives, exhibitions, articles and books. I cannot help but wonder whether, if, at least in part, this has to do with gender. 

Whatever the reason, from my perspective, Holt's art remains as inspiring, intelligent and impressive to me now as when I first came across an article on her - buried deep in the more obscure periodicals of a university library, some decades ago now.  

Below are images and writings of two of my favourite works by Holt; for those out there awaiting an introduction... 

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels 1973

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels 1973

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels 1973

In reference to her most well known work 'Sun Tunnels' [1973-76]:

By marking the yearly extreme positions of the sun on the horizon, Sun Tunnels indicates the cyclical time of the solar year.  The tunnels are aligned with each other and with the angles of the rising and settling of the sun on the days of the solstices, around June 21 and December 21.  On these days the sun is seen on the horizon centred through tunnels.  Actually, around Summer Solstice the sun can be seen through the tunnels for many days, the sunlight glowing bright gold on the tunnel walls.  
The configuration of the holes in the upper half of each tunnel corresponds with a constellation, either Capricorn, Columbia, Draco or Perseus... During the day, the sun, a star among starts, shines through the holes, casting a changing pattern of pointed ellipses and circles of light on the bottom half of each tunnel.  The shapes and positions of the areas of light differ from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season, relative to the positions of the sun.  The spots of warm light in the cool shady tunnels are like starts cast down to Earth, inverting the sky, turning day into night.  And on many desert nights, moonlight shines through the holes, casting its own paler pattern.  
I wanted to bring the vast space of the desert back down to human scale.  I had no desire to make a megalithic monument.  The panoramic view of the landscape is too overwhelming to take it all in without visual reference points.  The view blurs out rather than sharpens.  When you stand at the centre of the work, the tunnels draw your vision into the landscape, opening up the perceived space.  but once you're inside one of the tunnels, the work encloses and surrounds you, and the landscape is framed through the ends of the tunnels and through the star holes.  
[Nancy Holt, Land and Environmental Art,  1998]

Nancy Holt, Hydra's Head 1974

 And concerning the installation Hydra's Head [1974]:
This was an installation made alongside the Niagara River.  Concrete disks holding pools of water in varying sizes were sunk into the earth.  The configuration of the pools matches the stellar constellation Hydra.  This work explores the idea of man's relationship with the universe rather than just the immediate environment.  
[Nancy Holt, Land and Environmental Art,  1998]

Vale Nancy - may your works continue to inspire...