Nancy Holt currently has a really nice exhibition of photo works at Haunch of Venison (five minutes' walk away from the Burtynsky show covered in my last post). You can see in it two works made on her trip with Smithson: Wistman's Wood and Trail Markers. I've mentioned Wistman's Wood here before - Smithson and Holt were stunned by it and Holt made her first Buried Poem piece there. She says in the interview, 'a site evokes a person, and I bury a poem for that person and later the person a booklet including maps, detailed directions and a list of equipment (such as a compass and shovel) in order to find it. To me, Wistman’s Wood conjured up Bob’s persona in a striking way…' Trail Markers is a set of photographs of Dartmoor rocks, each distinguished by an orange paint spot, used to identify a route across the moor. As I looked at these I felt a strange sense of recognition, perhaps recalling other trails like this from childhood holidays in the seventies: was this how most such trails were marked out before the spread of wooden sign posts? Holt says 'I hadn’t seen markers like these before. I didn’t know if they were unique to this place or not, but in any case they lent themselves to my project.'
Not everything in the exhibition relates to landscape (there is, for example, a beautiful series of Light and Shadow Photo-Drawings), but I'd like to end this post by mentioning Pine Barrens: Trees (1975), a seven by four grid of video stills showing solitary stunted pine trees in a wilderness area of New Jersey. In the original film local people can be heard describing the area and its local myths, but here the images are stark and silent, their transfer from the original 16mm film giving them a slightly blurred quality that reminded me of Chinese ink paintings. In her Tate etc. interview Nancy Holt traces the origin of this piece to that 1969 trip with Robert Smithson. 'Looking back, I feel that the Pine Barrens film may have been seeded in our visit to Wistman’s Wood. Walking on that Dartmoor trail was a pivotal experience. Not long before our visit there, we had seen Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill. It all works on the psyche.'