Exhibition reviews – NANCY HOLT – Inside Outside @ MACBA 2023

Originally posted: 2023-07-26

I arrive at MACBA without expectations. As usual, I have not pre-checked what exhibitions will be on display.
No, I´m going to let MACBA surprise me.

Ventilation system

When I enter the spacious hall which leads to the exhibition, harmoniously bending ventilation pipes elegantly stretch towards the ceiling. Their hats swirling, reminding me of a fairy tale castle in the skies but this time mixed with a construction site. It is Nancy Holts piece “Ventilation system”.
The wall text informs me that this piece wants to “call attention to the aesthetics and origins of the systems we rely on in the built environment”.


I´ve never heard of Nancy Holt. So when I step into the first exhibition room I´m quite underwhelmed. The walls have photo series and text-works and I think to my self “well this is going to be boring”.

That all changes as soon as I read the description of “Tour of the John Weber Gallery”. I love art that is both funny and quick-witted and Holts “Tour”, where we get to examine the gallerys radiator covers and drips of green paint on the window sills is exactly that.


I move on to a series of photographies depicting stones and landscapes, the nature is lush and green and I imagine that it rains a lot in this area. In every scenario there is an orange trail mark pointing out that we are on the right path! But where is this path leading? And why are the trail marks in such unusual places as on the corner of a random stone?

The wall text says “The dots highlight a human construct within a vast natural expense, linking to Holt´s interest in systems and human movement through space and time, and to her fascination with the circle.”


I wonder to my self if “vast natural expense” is correctly translated and end up reading the piece wrongly, thinking that Holt her self has made the marks and in that way kidnapped our feet in the same way as she kidnapped our gaze in “Tour of the John Weber Gallery”.
Later I find out that the dots were already there and Holt felt obliged to photograph them.


Nancy Holt had a long career and the exhibition displays works from the 60s to the 90s. I walk in the spacious exhibition halls and learn that she is best known for her concrete poetry and her land art. All though there is a lot to be discovered here I´m mostly drawn to the pieces where Holt fixes our view or alters our experience of the expected experience.



In one room sets of black metal pipes stick up from the ground. Their heads mimic telescopes and their placement is meticulously planned (I imagine). Its Holts locators. I peak through the hole in one of the locators. Try to align my eye so it sees through the second locator and manage to catch my eye in the mirror in the end of the installation.


“The Locator frames a particular view in space, which restricts the subject’s perspective while at the same time, facilitates a private, solitary experience. Perception is thus internalized, allowing the viewer to reflect within while observing an external reality. ” reads a text on Holt Smithson foundations website.


My brain is processing the information. “Perception is thus internalized”..
Ahaa, Inside/Outside!
I think of my eye reflected in the mirror of the Locator. What did the eye in the mirror see? What do I look like from the mirrors point of view?

I try to get a picture through the locator. My camera doesn´t really understand what I´m after so after a series of blurry photos I give up and move on.

The exhibition ends with large, poetic, photographs of Holts Sun tunnels. The locator telescopes have now grown into big concrete tunnels, systematically placed in the vast deserts of Utah. They are aligned with the position of the rising and setting sun on the summer and winter solstices. And I feel that Holt, with these pieces, anchor us to the earth, connect the earth with the sun and the moon and the earth and space. Brings us back to our origin, from dust to dust.


My head is filled with thoughts after the exhibition and I decide to skip the rest of the exhibitions at MACBA today. While ordering very expensive patatas bravas at the next door restaurant, I think about how many experiences in every lived second we miss, because of our already fixed views that someone invisible have planted in our brains.

Xoxo/ Salla Vartiainen
Artist, Writer, Explorer

Originally posted: 2023-07-26