Holt/Smithson Foundation Friday Films — "Swamp" on May 1, 2020

Through April and May 2020 Holt/Smithson Foundation invites you to join us for our Friday Film Program.

Every Friday over the next two months we present a selected moving image work by Nancy Holt and/or Robert Smithson on Vimeo and IGTV for twenty-four hours. The program starts at 12 noon Friday on Mountain Time (the time zone of our home base in New Mexico), running through to 12 noon on Saturday.

Our fifth Friday screening is Swamp, a collaborative film made by Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson in 1971. Check back here between 12 noon Friday, May 1 and 12 noon Saturday, April 2 MDT for access to the film. 

Swamp is shot on 16mm film in the swamplands of New Jersey, a site both artists frequently returned to in their works. In an interview with the painter and writer Gregoire Muller in 1971, Smithson described Swamp as being concerned with “deliberate obstructions or calculated aimlessness.” The visual element of the film shows exactly what Holt sees: a mass of vegetation. Looking through the viewfinder of her Bolex camera focused in tight close-up, Holt attempts to walk through the landscape – her vision too focused for steady progress. The audio comprises the sounds of the couple moving through reeds, the wind blowing, the camera clicking, and Smithson giving verbal directions as he tries to see for Holt.

A visceral, chaotic journey unfolds as the two artists confront a dense maze of plant life, struggling with the limitations of their own perception, and for the failure of technology to stand in for vision. “Just walk in a straight line” Smithson advises. “Straight into that clump. It’s OK, Nan. You’re on fairly solid ground. Straight in. Just go right in. Go straight in over that way. Turn to your right. Your right. In, into, that clump right there. Directly in. It’s okay. Go ahead.” Holt’s vision is partial and distorted, and she responds: “so much of this is out of focus.”

Reflecting on Swamp some twenty years later, Holt notes that the film “deals with limitations of perception through the camera eye as Bob and I struggled through a muddy New Jersey swamp. Verbal direction cannot easily be followed. As the reeds crash against the camera lens blocking vision and forming continuously shifting patterns, confusion ensues.”

Still from Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, Swamp (1971)
Digitized 16mm film
Color, sound
Duration: 6 minutes

© Holt/Smithson Foundation, licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York
Distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix

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