‘Points of View’ brings together rarely seen photographs, sculpture, installation and works on paper from the late 1960s and early 1970s by pioneering Land and Conceptual artist Nancy Holt, which show the formation of her visual lexicon. This compact exhibition, Holt’s second at Parafin, explores her interest in language, perception and our relationship to the environment. It signals a renewed interest in the artist’s work, ahead of two forthcoming large-scale European shows, and asks questions which feel especially prescient over four decades later, at a moment in which we are acutely aware of our surrounding landscape.
The relationship between word and image is explored in the first group of works encountered in the show. In the photograph ‘Concrete Poem’ (1968), Holt captures a heap of large black letters on a set of concrete steps. ‘Wistman’s Wood’ (1969) comprises eight photographs of gnarly oak trees in Dartmoor which mark the site of a concealed text: Holt’s first ‘Buried Poem’, created for her husband, artist Robert Smithson, during a tour of natural sites and ancient monuments across England and Wales in 1969. Nearby, a poem ‘The World Through a Circle’ (c.1970) depicts a circle formed of the words “Moon”, “Sun”, “Earth”, “Water”, “Star” and “Sky”, which, together with the typewritten text below, encapsulate the themes that endured throughout the artist’s career.
Holt’s engagement with cyclical processes, and method of framing the landscape through the shape of a circle is exemplified by ‘Locator with Mirror’ (1972) part of the ‘Locator’ series, started in 1971. Formed of one vertical and one horizontal hollow steel pipe, a circular aperture directs the gaze towards a round mirror, as the viewer becomes aware of the act of seeing itself. Holt’s ‘Locator’ works, the most impactful of which are site-responsive, were pivotal in the development of her monumental sculptural work ‘Sun Tunnels’ (1973–76) situated in the Great Basin Desert, Utah. Reflecting on the project in 1977, Holt wrote: “I wanted to bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale [...] Once inside the tunnels, the work encloses—surrounds—and there is a framing of the landscape through the ends of the tunnels and through the holes.”
Holt’s early experiments in directed vision also informed ‘Points of View’ (1974), a four-channel video installation made for the alternative art space, Clocktower Gallery, New York, founded in 1972 by Alanna Heiss, who would later go on to establish PS1 Contemporary Art Center in a deserted school in Queens. Reconfigured for its first UK presentation, the installation consists of four monitors encased in a white rectangular structure which display views of Lower Manhattan from the four points of the compass. Holt paired together eight key figures from the contemporary New York art scene and invited each duo to respond to a viewpoint. The dialogues accompanying each video make audible an attempt to decipher the urban environment through “passing circular glimpses of the world outside”. The participants, including writer Lucy Lippard and artist Richard Serra, identify junk yards, water towers, construction sites and highways, and reflect more broadly upon the formal and conceptual possibilities of video and sound.
In the downstairs gallery, the show culminates in a series of nineteen colour photographs entitled ‘California Sun Signs’ (1972) which document Holt’s reading of the passing landscape en route to the Mojave Desert. Together, these playful images form a taxonomy of commercial signage featuring the word “sun”, from roadside motels, gas stations and liquor stores, sundaes to sundials to sunlands.