Nancy Holt
16 mm film, color, sound
Duration: 6 minutes

Swamp is an artwork by Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson.

Holt walks through a New Jersey marsh with her Bolex camera; her sight is confined to the viewfinder and she relies on Smithson’s verbal navigation as he walks behind her. Reeds whip against the camera, rubber boots squeak with each painstaking step, and Smithson’s voice becomes increasingly insistent and supportive. As swamp grass consumes the visual frame, human sensibilities of direction and perspective dissolve. A visceral, chaotic journey unfolds as the two artists confront a dense maze of plant life—and struggle with the limitations of their own perception


Film Transcription

Smithson: Just walk in a straight line.

Holt: I think, I think, I am. [inaudible]

Smithson: Straight in . . . to 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 OK.

Go ahead.

Holt: So much of this is out of focus.

Smithson: Well, just keep going in.

Don’t worry about the focus. Just keep mov . . . just keep advancing in, as much as you can.

How’s the film holding up?

Here, head over that way. . . . There seems to be something.

You are heading toward stickers I think.

Over that way.

Holt: Which way?

Smithson: Towards that puddle over there.

Holt: I can’t see anything.

Smithson: Well, move to your right, to your right. Straight ahead.

Watch out for the stickers.

Holt: Oh! I'm getting it . . . [inaudible]

Smithson: That's OK. Here-- get over here. It is better in here . . .

Holt: My legs are stuck in there.

Smithson: That's OK.

Holt: I think that there is too much . . .

Smithson: Just pull, just pull out of there.

Holt: . . . movement. I really . . . 

Smithson: OK, hold it for a while then.

Try to pick up that--- uh, that body of water back there.

Holt: Where is it?

Smithson: Uh, it's directly in front of you.

Holt: Oh.

Smithson: Go slow, if you want. 

Watch it!

OK. Make an about face.

Holt: An about face?

Smithson: Yeah. Go back the way you came.

Holt: This way?

Smithson: Yeah.

OK. Watch the stickers.

Holt: Well, you have to get them . . . [inaudible]

Smithson: Shoot into the density of it, too.

Holt: Yeah, I am . . . just shooting straight ahead. OK.

Smithson: Let's see how much . . .


Holt: I'm stuck.

Smithson: Right . . .

Watch out. The reeds . . . can cut a little.

The clearing - head out into the clearing.

Let's see . . . seventy feet.

Holt: I scratched up my leg on a . . . reed.

Smithson: Yeah. 

Just sort of go out into the clearing . . . just move to that clump on the other side.

It's a little watery here. OK? 

I've got the stickers.

Just keep it low.

Holt: Keep it low?

Smithson: Yeah. Don't want too much sky.

Holt: No. Well, I'm trying to get the tops of them.

How many feet left on the reel?

Smithson: Uh . . . hundred.

Holt: Hundred?!

Smithson: Well, it says a hundred on there.

Holt: I think it's just the squint.

Smithson: Yeah?

Holt: What . . . what does it say?

Smithson: Nothing.

See Also