Hydra's Head

Nancy Holt
Along the Niagara River, Artpark, Lewiston, New York
Concrete, earth, water
Overall Dimensions: 28 x 62 ft. (8.5 x 18.9 m); Pool Diameters: two 4 ft. (1.2 m), three 3 ft. (.9 m) , one 2 ft. (.6 m); Pool Depth: 3 ft. (.9 m)

On a bank of the Niagara River, six pools of water, encircled by concrete, are arranged in the pattern of the constellation Hydra. Their mirror-like quality reflects the sky, the light, the colors of the world above while below, the river rages endlessly onwards. Hydra is the name of a mythical sea monster; the soul and substance of this work is water. Holt was entranced by the Seneca Nation proverb: “Pools of water are the eyes of the earth.” The pools of ​Hydra’s Head bear witness to the site’s magnificence—from the stars in the night sky to the ripple of a water beetle.

Nancy Holt was commissioned to create a temporary site-specific work as part of Artpark's seasonal artist residency program in 1974. She selected a site along the Niagara River where she realized Hydra’s Head and at the end of the 1974 residency season the six pools were filled with gravel. Holt was clear that she would consider a reactivation of the earthwork, and at the Foundation we are open to working to achieve her wish.


Writing by the Artist

Hydra's Head

Nancy Holt

The Seneca Indians of New York have a saying: “Pools of water are the eyes of the earth.” At night the pools of Hydra’s Head “see” the stars brought down into their circumferences, by day they catch in their “view” sky, clouds, sun, and a bird or two. The moon is seen moving from pool to pool as I walk—a continuous recurrence of light encircled. Eddies and whirlpools in the river below, fed by the mad waters of Niagara Falls seven miles upstream, keep up a loud rhythm— there’s always the sound of water. Hearing and seeing come together in a vaporous fusion. The sky has suddenly fallen and is circled at my feet. Clouds drift through the earth, the sun gleams off the windblown ripples. A bottomless hole is there to engulf me. A sinking feeling begins to pervade. Nature’s mirrors absorb. The color of the concrete pipe seen rimming the pools echoes in the color of the rocks nearby.

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