In 1975, Nancy Holt created Pine Barrens, an experimental film shot on a tract of land in the dead center of New Jersey known mostly for its cranberry bogs, sand pits, and stumpy pine trees. Pine Barrens is a brilliant rumination on one of modernity’s central dialectical knots: the relationship between center and margin. That it does so not from a metropolis but from a periphery lodged within a periphery makes it prescient indeed. As Holt well recognized, no better place to explore this particular antinomy exists than the Pine Barrens.
Island of Broken Glass
Robert Smithson searched for lost islands. He might have found one in Miami Islet, but a telegram from the Canadian government in January of 1970, just two days after the seventieth anniversary of the shipwreck that gave the island its name, stopped the Island of Broken Glass project as it would also halt one hundred tons of green-tinted glass on its way to Vancouver’s coastline.
Nancy Holt: Zeroing In
Transient Materiality: Robert Smithson’s "Cayuga Salt Mine Project"
In February 1969, Robert Smithson created the Cayuga Salt Mine Project. The impetus for Smithson realizing the work was the landmark exhibition Earth Art at Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, and marks the only time it was shown in totality.
Robert Smithson’s Crystal Lattices: Mapping the Shapes of Time
Rocks and Mirror Square II (1971) is constructed from eight, identically sized mirrors, placed back to back against each other to form a mirrored square shored up with basalt rocks. The granular irregularities of the basalt are juxtaposed against the crisp geometry of the structure as a whole. The mirrors are entirely supported by the rocks.
Mono Lake: Ring of Fire
At any location on earth, as the rock record goes down into time and out into earlier geographies it touches upon tens of hundreds of stories, wherein the face of the earth often changed, changed utterly, and changed again, like the face of a crackling fire.1
Robert Smithson, "A Nonsite (Franklin, New Jersey)" (1968)
In 1968, Robert Smithson realized an important group of works he collectively called Nonsites. This series features bin-like structures in which the artist deposited rocks, sand, broken concrete, and other elements he collected at various sites in New Jersey. Accompanying these sculptures, Smithson hung on gallery walls photographs he’d snapped at the same Garden State locations, as well as fragments of maps that could lead other people to these places.
You are in the middle of an expanse of tall thick dry grass, head height. As you look and move through this, a world unfurls that you become immersed in feeling, hearing, seeing, and experiencing fully in each moment. Expansive. The experience feels vivid and rich despite the difficulties of movement across uneven ground and against a fierce wind. Immersive. You cannot see beyond your immediate surroundings. There is no horizon.
Nancy Holt "Trail Markers" (1969) or, the walk from Wistman’s Wood
Trail Markers was photographed over a short stretch of publicly accessible footpath on the granite upland in the South-West of England known as Dartmoor. The path stretches between Two Bridges and Wistman’s Wood. The painted orange dots were a means to indicate the direction of the path for walkers and hikers. [Fig.1]
Doubling Down: Nancy Holt’s Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings
Circles everywhere! Upon entering Nancy Holt’s 2018 solo exhibition at Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea, New York City the observer is engulfed by a network of flat circular line drawings, round cast shadows, and orbicular light pools. Circles also appear dimensionally: as dark voids cut into walls and as mirrored surfaces shaped into orbs. Very tangibly Holt’s circles telescope out, forming lens-less viewfinders. As one stoops to look through cast-iron spyholes, for example in Dual Locators (1972), a tunneling effect occurs: circles become layered onto circles.
A heap of Language
σάρμα εἰκῇ κεχυμένον ὁ κάλλιστος, φησὶν Ἡράκλειτος, [ὁ] κόσμος
[the most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion]
—Heraclitus of Ephesus
Robert Smithson designed and directed the construction of his iconic work the Spiral Jetty in April 1970. The Jetty is a site-specific work, meant to interact with changing conditions of the surrounding water, land, and atmosphere. While located in a relatively barren, unpopulated place, Smithson chose the site not only because of the vast surrounding landscape, but with reference to nearby abandoned oil rigs and the Golden Spike monument marking the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railway.