City life demands that students rush from every experience to the next, never taking the time to stop and smell the Halal cart, but artist Nancy Holt asks them to slow down and ponder the implications of existence within a three-dimensional space.
“Nancy Holt: Sightlines,”which opened last week and runs through Dec. 11 at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, focuses on the development of Holt’s particular aesthetic and body of work from 1966-1980. The work in the exhibit seems concerned not only with people’s subjective experiences of space, but also with the documentation of such physical experiences, often utilizing still and video photography and sound recordings.
Beginning with several series of what could only be likened to travel or snapshot photography, the exhibit introduces viewers to the inquiry of human interactions with specific spatial contexts. The pieces “Over the Hill” and “Downhill” consist of several frames of artist Joan Jonas walking up and down a hill. Other pieces, such as “Western Graveyards” and “Sun Signs,” bring forth the question of a human presence within particular places in a much subtler manner.
As one moves through the space of the gallery (and essentially through time and Holt’s artistic career), the pieces develop into the site-specific public sculptures the artist is so well known for. Pieces such as “Hydra’s Head” and “Points of View” make use of circles and cylinders—simple geometric shapes—to aid in participants’ experiences of complicated spatial concepts.
It is with pieces such as these that the archival aspect of a spatially concerned body of work—that is, its existence as photographs—becomes problematic. Holt’s work, through the inclusion of “apertures,” seeks to guide participants’ experiences not only of the pieces themselves, but also of the landscape in which they exist. In essence, piece and landscape are inalienable from each other and from personal spatial experiences. The problem lies in the fact that photographic lenses often distort and flatten people’s perceptions of space, making it difficult to experience Holt’s pieces as they were meant to be experienced.
The problems that arise from such a reliance on technology force viewers to question the gap between the space that exists and the space that is represented by a recording or photograph. Is the personal and physical experience of space more real than the one seen through the lens of a camera?
The gallery space is quite large, and it displays photographs, videos, and sound recordings in a varied, multimedia, artistic array. Overall, the exhibit delivers its promise: to provide a directive survey of an important American artist’s breadth of work.
Nancy Holt will be part of the Visiting Artist Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Miller Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.