Weekend Screening: Nancy Holt's "Bob with Books"

This weekend we continue with the fourth screening in our second season of Friday Films: Nancy Holt’s Bob with Books (1971).

In this 1971 film by Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson sits on the rooftop of 799 Greenwich St. in New York—the loft and studio space that the couple shared starting in 1963. In the opening shot of the film Smithson takes a sip of his Budweiser, then grabs a book from the tall stack to his left. After opening the book at random and reading for a moment with the book balanced on top of his knees, Smithson appears to lose interest in the book, sets it down to his right, and reaches for another. This cycle repeats itself for the duration of the three-minute film. Each time Smithson picks up a new book from the stack, Holt quickly zooms in on Smithson and the book before retreating when he sets the book down.

At the end of the film, Holt zooms in on the disheveled pile of discarded books. This chaotic pile of books manifests Smithson's interest in the accumulation of knowledge resembling geologic strata and the idea of the earth’s history and geology as a book out of order.  In his 1968 essay "Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects," Smithson wrote "The strata of the Earth is a jumbled museum,” and two years later in the film Spiral Jetty (1970), Smithson narrates “The earth’s history seems at times like a story recorded in a book. Each page of which is torn into small pieces. Many of the pages and some of the pieces of each page are missing.”

Holt's direction and cinematography raises questions about scale and perspective; zooming into each book (or layer of knowledge) allows for concentration on one subject but also causes the viewer to lose focus on the scene at large.

Bob with Books is one of the five films included in the solo exhibition Hypothetical Islands at Marian Goodman Gallery London, which is the first solo exhibition of Smithson’s work in the UK. View the full schedule for Season 2 of Friday Films here.

This film will be available on Vimeo and InstagramTV from 12 p.m. Mountain Time on Friday, December 11 through to 12 p.m. Mountain Time on Monday, December 14. Click here to watch a video introduction to the film by Hikmet Loe, an artist, writer, and teacher who is the author of “The Spiral Jetty Encyclo: Exploring Robert Smithson's Earthwork through Time and Place” (2017).

We hope you join us next week to watch the final film in Season 2 of Friday Films: Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson's Mono Lake (1968/2004).

Still from Nancy Holt, Bob with Books (1971)
Roof of 799 Greenwich St., New York
Digitized 16mm film, color, silent
Duration: 2 minutes 59 seconds 

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

Archived News

Nancy Holt: Circles of Light at Gropius Bau, Berlin

Holt/Smithson Foundation and Gropius Bau are pleased to announce the most comprehensive presentation of Nancy Holt in Germany to date. Taking a journey through Holt’s output, starting with her first artwork made in 1966, Circles of Light expands over the Gropius Bau’s ground floor and atrium. Paying attention to Holt’s experimental approach to the interplay between the immaterial and the material, this exhibition underscores the singularity of Holt’s oeuvre.