Artist Presentation – Nancy Holt

Within Introduction to Sculpture, we were asked to present a PowerPoint to the group about a contemporary sculptor, looking at 6 – 10 artworks of theirs. I chose Nancy Holt, who is known for her large scale and public sculptures.

The PowerPoint used, can be found here; Nancy Holt – Artist Presentation.

Nancy Holt was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1938. Her father was a chemical engineer, her mother was a homemaker and she graduated from Tufts University in 1960 as a biology major. Holt moved to New York and worked alongside Michael Heizer, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra and her husband, Robert Smithson.

Holt was a key member of the Earth, Land and Conceptual art movements, and helped to develop unique aesthetic of perception. This enables visitors to her sites to engage with the landscape in new and challenging ways. Working in many mediums, she was a pioneer of site-specific installation and film and video work.

There was an exploration and revision of the ways people viewed the world around them, and Holt wanted to make it simpler –

“I wanted to bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale. I had no desire to make a megalithic monument. The panoramic view of the landscape is too overwhelming to take in without visual reference points… through the tunnels, parts of the landscape are framed and come into focusthe work encloses surrounds…

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Concrete Visions, 1967

Concrete Visions (1967)
Composite inkjet print of archival rag paper taken from original 126 format black and white negatives; printed 2012. 35 x 35 inches; 88.9 x 88.9 cm.
Holt’s early photographs laid the foundation for her sculpture work. She photographed the sites where Smithson would obtain the materials for his work. There is an exploration of perception, seeing frames within frames. By arranging the work in sequences, it offers multiple perspective compromising the whole of art, and rejects one-point perspective.

 

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Western Graveyards, 1968

Western Graveyards (1968)
60 inkjet prints on archival rag paper, printed from original 126 format transparencies; printed 2012. 18 x 18 inches; 45.7 x 45.7 cm.
This work compromises of old cemeteries in the deserts of Nevada and California, many fenced off and overgrown. Holt uses this work as an anthropological study through photography. Holt takes the grave and makes it a work of art, making graves gallery shots. Holt was drawn to the graves because they captured “how people thought about space out the West; their last desire was to delineate a little plot of their own because there was so much vastness.” This reflects her ongoing interest in human interventions in the landscape.

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Hydra’s Head, 1974

Hydra’s Head (1974)
This work is much of an unknown, as documentation of the work has been kept to a minimum. It is an arrangement of concrete cylinders in a riverbank that corresponds to the constellation above. Holt’s work consistently sets us on the ground, only to have us look up at the sky.

 

 

holt_pinebarrens_xlPine Barrens (1975)
30:24 min; colour, sound, film on HD video.
This video shows the desolate sand and pipe landscapes of central New Jersey. The visual work is combined with audio of local music and interviews with residents, known as ‘Pineys’. What is heard is feelings about the land, their attitudes to city life and myths of the area. It adds a psychological dimension to the landscape. Holt is concerned with evoking a wilderness in south-central New Jersey. The camera is always in motion – tracking, pivoting and walking through landscape.

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Sun Tunnels, 1973-6

Sun Tunnels (1973-6)
Concrete, steel, earth, 111 x 822 x 636 in.; 281.9 x 2087.9 x 1615.4 cm.
This is Holt’s most infamous large scale installation works in Great Basic Desert, Utah. It composes of four large concrete cylinders, arranged on the desert floor in a cross pattern, that align with the sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices. Each of the cylinders are pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations; Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn. Holt’s design allows for an ever-changing play of light and shadow upon the surfaces of her work. The work focuses our vision and challenging our understanding of an environment. Holt’s work draws our attention to the complexities of our relationship with the landscape we inhabit and act upon.

Sculptural sites allow the viewer the channel vastness of nature into human scale while creating contemplative, subjective experience grounded in a specific location in real time.

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Dark Star Park, 1979-84

Dark Star Park (1979-84)
This was publicly commissioned by Arlington County, Virginia, in conjunction with an urban renewal project. Holt transformed two thirds of an acre that was once a gas station and dilapidated warehouse into a municipal park with pools, spheres tunnels. The forms are a contrast to the busy and highly developed commercial area that surrounds the space. the materials are common to the area and used as building materials. It is an interactive space where the work alters the viewer’s perception by using curvilnear forms. The work explores the concept of time and out relationship with the universe, inked to Holt’s obsession with solar eclipses. Each year at 9:32am on August 1, the date in 1860 on which the land became Rosslyn was purchased, the natural shadows of the sculptures align with the fabricated shadows.

“It’s called Dark Star Park because in my imagination there spheres are like stars that have fallen to the ground – they no longer shine – so I think of the park/artwork in a somewhat celestial way.”

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Solar Rotary, 1995

Solar Rotary (1995)
University of South Florida, Tampa
This is a public art installation of eight connected poles and benches arranged in a circular plaza. It is influences by the sun’s movement and the summer solstice. The piece includes several elements including a central circular stone with a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, seats at North South East West and five plaques and benches commemorating significant events in Florida’s history with considerate planting. On any given day, Solar Rotary will cast its dynamic sun symbol shadow in a continuously changing pattern on the pavement below, highlighting plaques on their corresponding dates.

 

Sculpture: Plaster Assignment

Our first assignment for sculpture was based around the material of plaster and our manipulation of it in several projects.

The first project was a leaf cast, to get us used to mixing plaster and the way it behaves, from and thin detailed mould to a thicker paste that can be smothered on.

Our second project bought us to the largest portion of the assignment: a plaster head. The challenge was to transform the plaster head using clay and a variety of other materials. This project allowed a further experimentation with plaster, pushing our thoughts of its capabilities. With no set instructions, it was interesting to see where instincts lead the projects, and the found materials that influenced it.

The third project was an alginate mould and cast. After previous alginate experience, I felt relatively comfortable with what was needed. As I had previously completed a hand, I decided to turn towards a foot mould and cast, allowing to see a different perspective of my own toes.

A fourth project was that of a relief cast, and pushing objects into clay before pouring plaster. This project allowed us to view the detail that plaster was able to pick up, especially with just clay as the base of the mould.

A final plaster project for the assignment was based on a two-part mould. This mould allowed us to see the strength of the plaster, and how far we could take it outside of this particular project. There was several difficulties during the mould and cast for this, however it was rectified to make a good set of casts.

A sketchbook accompanied these five projects, showcasing the steps for each plaster project, along with ideas, artists and sketches of final works.

We were able to choose the display for the set of projects for the plaster assignment. I felt that displaying on a table allowed viewers to interact, and travel around the piece, seeing detail from all sides. I positioned the smaller items on small plain tiles that were found in the department, off-setting the areas from a worktable to a display area. I felt that the design of the display worked well, and was able to showcase all the pieces. If I were to display again, I would have liked to have chosen a cleaner area with more natural light to showcase the delicacies of each plaster project I completed.

Once a group critique was completed, we were able to display our plaster heads in a public area of the university. All the pieces were positioned in two areas. As each piece was displayed on different bases, there was a variety of natural heights that the heads sat at, ensuring the eye travelled between them. I thought that the display of them tied in very successfully with each other, and with other artwork that was preexisting in the room.

Overall, I feel that these projects were completed successfully, and I was able to follow the guidelines, without setting rules. Throughout each project, I felt very at ease not necessarily knowing what I was doing every step of the way, and this was refreshing. I believe that because I felt refreshed, I was able to create some successful works.

35mm Photography

Regular format photography is also known as 35mm photography. The measurement of 35mm references the width of film and can also be found in other sizes. Many cameras that use 35mm film are SLRs, or Single Lens Reflex camera, meaning that there is a pentaprism from the viewfinder to the lens, allowing us to see through the lens. When the shutter is pressed, the mirror will raise and the shutter will activate, taking a photo.

Film is sensitive to all wavelengths of visible light, so you must be cautious when loading and unloading the film from the camera that it is completely wound into the canister. You cannot let the camera see the light until after the fix stage of development. If it is exposed, the film will turn black. Because of this, you have to take the film out of the canister in complete darkness. For this process, see Developing Film.

You have to be aware of the ISO/ASA as this measures the films’ sensitivity to light. If it is sensitive to light, it require less light in exposure. You tell the camera what sensitivity the film is inside the window on the shutter speed measure circle. The lower the ASA, the lower the sensitivity to light, meaning a higher exposure. 400 is normally a good, general purpose film.

Exposure is important in the photo, and you must use the exposure reading by pushing the shutter button half way down. This will show you a plus, green circle or minus as the camera assumes that everything will be middle grey. You want to alter the shutter speed and aperture so you have the green light showing. Ensure you focus before taking the photo. Moving the frame will alter the exposure, meaning you have to change the shutter speed and aperture again.

There is a direct relationship between shutter speed and aperture as when you increase the f-stop, you lower the shutter speed. The give or take, or reciprocity, between the two allows to to roughly gather what settings you may need to change. You shouldn’t shoot anything with a shutter speed longer than 1/60 of a second as it will pick up camera blur.

  • Shutter speed/TV: smaller number = bigger hole = more light. Bigger number = smaller hole = less light
  • Aperture/AV: smaller number = bigger aperture = smaller focus range. Bigger number = smaller aperture = bigger focus range

The consequence of changing aperture is changing the depth of field, or the range that will be in focus. If the aperture is wide open (smaller number), the depth of field will be small. Changing the aperture will re-position the focus of the depth of field and can change the context of the image. You can determine the depth of field with the preview button that is found on the side of the lens. This will determine how much of the image is in focus around the focal point, and will make it seem like the image goes darker.

The depth of field can be changed with aperture along with focal distance of the lens and the camera to subject the distance. The closer the subject to the lens the lower the depth of field (relative distance).

I used all of this theory while using the 35mm cameras to take images for the second photography assignment, Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before.

 

Plaster heads

Above: the sketchbook pages outlining my ideas around plaster and the manipulation of the materials in a project where the concept was to have no concept.

As the main element of the plaster assignment, we were each individually given a Styrofoam head to transform using plaster. We also had to include a base that we had found the week before, and it was a difficult challenge to bring these together in harmony. I did not have any preconceptions of what I wanted the head to look like. Many of the drawings I did for planning, were completed after the main areas of plaster were already on. Cheesecloth as well as plaster was used to stick the plaster to the Styrofoam.

The first section completed was the hooped handles at the top and bottom of the head. I wanted to incorporate other materials from the get go, and building the handles with skewers and cotton wool balls allowed me to do so, and create a strong structure.

After adding these, I felt that something was missing, and I wanted to have more movement within the piece. I found some cardboard and started to rip it and bend it freely into shapes around the head. Once the first piece of cheesecloth was in the centre, holding the piece down, I then started to create the curvature from the centre of the face and around the left side.

However, something was still missing, and I felt that the neck was too bland and a balance of plaster needed to be copied on the right side. I replicated the random positioning of cardboard from mid to bottom head. This came with a break between this piece of cardboard, and the existing piece already on the head. The break in the curve was welcome as it showed an unexpected turn of events.

I was happy with the design of the head, and the movement that was created with each layer and addition of plaster. I decided to sand the head down in order to make it smooth, while still seeing the imperfections. Allowing the piece to continue to show the imperfections lets you view the rawness of the material.

But once again, there was something missing, until I found three giant maps while routing around in the skips out the back. These were in very good condition and grabbed my attention immediately – I felt like I had to use them in some way or another with the plaster head.

Then began the process of paper mache with the maps, to the head. I didn’t want large clumps of map to overwhelm the head, so I ripped the islands on the maps up into manageable sized chunks that allowed you to roughly see the country but not overwhelming you. The thick pieces of map had to be soaked in water first before applying to a dampened plaster with diluted white glue. I followed the ‘unnatural’ contours of the face that people may not see. This added an extra layer of movement.

To finalise the design, I used sandpaper over the maps to rough them up and to bring plaster through some holes. This made the maps look like they were a part of the process of the head, rather than added at last minute. I also added maps to the side of my base, a ceramic chocolate pot. This connected the two together even further. The use of text within the piece fascinated me, as it is not often that you openly see text within a sculpture. There is a strange juxtaposition between the torn up maps of the world, showing chaos and destruction, and the calm and orderly chocolate pot.

The final addition were three curved wires from the bottom of the maps that mimicked the curvatures found in the head.

Overall, I was very pleased with the plaster head project. It allowed me to explore the use of plaster in a different environment, and stretched what I thought it was capable of doing. The balance of the piece, I believe to be successful, as the piece shows the delicacy of the world that we currently live in, while giving us some piece of mind with a hot chocolate.

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Final display of plaster head and base

Two-part Plaster Mould

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Sketchbook spread outlining process and ideas of a two-part mould casting

I had never worked with a process with as many steps as the two-part mould, but was very happy with the final casts that captured a high level of detail from the silicone mould. The silicone allows for several casts, unlike alginate.

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Sketchbook pages outlining the complex process of a two-part mould and a mother mould counterpart

Silicone mould:

  • Choose an object. A hard object with good volume is ideal for a first mould.
  • Fix object to a board, ideally using a screw.
  • Prepare your work space with your object, silicone and gel, paintbrush, scraper, mixing stick (an ice-lolly stick or scrap piece of wood is ideal) and thickener.
  • Add the silicone to the gel, mixing well.
  • For 400ml silicone, add one cap of thickener. To get finer detail, make a thin layer without thickener and wait until it gets tacky, then add a thicker layer.
  • Add clay to the base for a ticker pour spout. Liberally apply silicone to object.
  • Smooth down using a scraper to make a relatively flat surface.
  • Ensure all areas are covered, making one side slightly thicker than the rest.
  • Leave for 24 hours to completely set and dry.

Mother mould:

  • Mentally draw a line around the mould, splitting it in half while ensuring there are no steep curves. Draw this line using thick pieces of clay, reinforcing it on one side of the mould.
  • Get the clay to be right angles to the silicone mould.
  • Add indents so the other side of the mould has something else to hook onto.
  • Using thicker made plaster, slap it on to get rid of any extra air bubbles.
  • As it gets thicker, dome the shape of the plaster. The walls need to be thick to withstand several casts.
  • Once one side it dry, take off all the clay. smooth the side of the plaster mould.
  • Cover the wall and some of the outer cast in Vaseline. This ensures that the plaster will not stick to each other, creating the two sides of the mould.
  • Complete the same plaster process on the other side, sans clay.
  • Once both sides are dry, split the mould in half.

Silicone mould:

  • Cut a zigzag pattern down the thickest part of the mould.

Casting:

  • Put the silicone mould back into the mother mould, sliding the two halves of the mother mould together. Attach using thick sellotape, wrapped around the mould.
  • Mix a thin plaster. Pour a small amount of plaster into the mould, swirl, pour it out. This picks up lots of detail that may otherwise be trapped.
  • Repeat several times.
  • Top up the mould with plaster and tap to get bubbles out.
  • Leave to set.
  • Once set and dry, cut open the sellotape and get out cast from the mould.
  • Put the silicone and mother mould back together and repeat for number of casts desired.

Despite the long process, the final product was very appeasing. The high amount of detail that was picked up by the silicone mould was beautifully replicated in the cast produced. I was able to produce two casts from this mould, both of which came out wonderfully. There was some difficulty getting the silicone out of the mother mould the second time, however it was eased out. If I am able to in the future, I would like to explore the use of a repetitive process with moulds, and the impact of repetition.

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Final cast from the two-part silicone mould of an unknown vegetable.

Developing Film

Developing film was a more nerve-wracking and exciting process than I initially imagined. The film had to be loaded in the canister (the white circle) in complete darkness to ensure no light contamination. On each canister, or on the box, it will tell you the code of chemistry that you need to follow. If you have film that says ‘black and white’ but has a code of C41, it must be processed like colour film. Below contains the instructions that must be followed in the dark with the 35mm black and white film.

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Canister, tube, funnel, lid, box and film used in complete darkness for 35mm film. The box is light tight, but allows in fluid, for the development of the black and white film.

First, load the film into the canister, cutting off the ends. Then, place the tube through this, ensuring you have the right tube for your container. This goes into the container and the funnel gets placed on top. Turn this until is clicks, making it light tight and unable to fall out. The lid goes on last. You can then go outside to develop the film.

The video below goes through this process, as well as the chemical development. The time it takes to develop the film depends on the temperature of the water. The process as a whole takes around 40 minutes with exact measurements of the chemicals. In the development area at the University of Ottawa, we also have detailed instructions to remind us of the process as we are going through it.

Once our film is dry, we are able to hang it up in cupboards designed for the length of our film. Here, it prevents dust from touching the sensitive film. Once it is dry, it is cut up and placed into film sleeves for protection. I was very happy that I was able to get images from my first development, and I am excited to continue working with film.

Photography Assignment One

There were two main elements to the first photography assignment; pinhole or constructed camera photography and photograms and ‘invented’ negative photography. Each had their own difficulties, as I found I had a block as to what I can use as a subject – my mind was relatively closed throughout the project, and I did not step too far out of my comfort zone. Because of this, I was only okay with the selection that I handed in for this first assignment. I felt that it showed the diversity of all the pieces that I created, while also displaying my technical skills both in and out of the darkroom. If I were to do the project again, I would have looked at a wider variety of simple photograms and invented negatives, as this worked best. I would also try to get a cleaner developing technique as a streak of black can be seen on many of the pinhole camera positives.