Connected lengths of duct punctuated by vents crisscross a room. Up close, it becomes clear the network is channelling air as the turbine ventilators spin and comes to life as a breathing system, wondrous for its unexpected industrial intrusion into the gallery.
Nancy Holt ‘Ventilation System’ at GOMA
First conceived in 1985, Nancy Holt’s Ventilation System 1985–92 (illustrated) belongs to Holt’s ‘System Works’; site-specific artworks that make visible the extensive hidden infrastructure we rely on for our everyday existence. These works are fabricated from the standard components of each industrial system and become a sculptural form in themselves.
‘Ventilation System’ bathed in the light from Mona Hatoum’s ‘Hot Spot’
No longer hidden, the steel contortions of Ventilation System make visible the ducted air that already circulates, almost imperceptibly, throughout our built environment. During her lifetime, Holt took care to tie the work closely to any existing ventilation systems within a building, following their logic and continuing the impression of air flow: ‘I intend the work to be practical yet playful, functional yet not really necessary, a part of the architecture yet part of the outdoor environment as well’.1
The QAGOMA variation for the exhibition ‘Air’ is the second posthumous presentation of Ventilation System, its site-responsiveness requiring some extrapolation of the artist’s ideas within the parameters she established for the work during her lifetime. The early environmental consciousness that shaped the ‘System Works’ from their conception in 1982 remains key, however, and is consistent with Nancy Holt’s belief that:
while continuing to meet our immediate material needs, the channelling of energy and elements of the earth can be done intelligently with the long‑term benefit of the planet in mind. In doing so we become nature’s agents rather than nature’s aggressors.2
1 Nancy Holt, quoted in Joan Marter, ‘Systems – A conversation with Nancy Holt’, Sculpture, October 2013, vol.32, no.8, p.31.
2 Holt, quoted in Pamela M Lee, ‘Art as a social system: Nancy Holt and the second-order observer’, in Williams, p.56.
Edited extract from the accompanying exhibition publication Air available at the QAGOMA Store and online.
Behind-the-scenes: Installation of ‘Ventilation System’
‘Ventilation System’ at GOMA
‘Air’ / Gallery of Modern Art, Gallery 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery), Gallery 1.2 & Gallery 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery) / 26 November 2022 to 23 April 2023