Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill

Nancy Holt

2011 | 00:20:56 | Netherlands | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video

Collection: New Releases, Single Titles

Tags: Landscape, Nature, Sculpture, Time

In 1971 Robert Smithson (1938-73) was invited to create an earthwork in the Netherlands on the occasion of the recurring outdoor exhibition Sonsbeek. Beside a working sand quarry in the province of Drenthe and cut into the side of a terminal moraine, Smithson created Broken Circle/Spiral Hill - his only extant earthwork outside of the United States. Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is an artwork of two parts. Broken Circle is a semi-circular jetty built into the quarry lake; at the center is a huge immovable boulder deposited by ancient glacial movements. Cone-shaped Spiral Hill can be climbed via spiraling path and at the top the quarry and Broken Circle can be seen from above.
The geological and industrial history of the Drenthe region drew Smithson to the site, and he was fascinated by the constructed landscape of The Netherlands. Smithson described in an interview how he was interested in “landscapes that suggest prehistory. As an artist it is sort of interesting to take on the persona of a geological agent where man actually becomes part of that process rather than overcoming it.” Smithson was committed to working with landscapes scarred by industry, thinking through future uses for exhausted landscapes. He described Broken Circle/Spiral Hill as a “major piece” and it sparked his interest in working with industry and post-industrial landscape to make art “a necessary part of their reclamation projects.”
Working with the artist Nancy Holt (1938-2014), the intention was to create a film as an integral part of Broken Circle/Spiral Hill. Working in film and video, Holt made a number of moving image works that feature earthworks and public sculpture by both Smithson and herself. In 1971 Smithson created a series of storyboards and Holt filmed Broken Circle/Spiral Hill on 16mm stock. The intention was to interweave material documenting the North Sea flood of 1953 that overwhelmed the sea defenses of The Netherlands and Belgium. Smithson died before the film was completed. In 2011, on the fortieth anniversary of Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, Theo Tegelaers of SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain invited Holt to the complete the film. The resultant Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971-2011) combines her original 1971 footage with 2011 material and archival documentation of the flood to create a portrait of Broken Circle/Spiral Hill and its unique surroundings.

Copyright Holt/Smithson Foundation.

Pricing Information

Additional Formats/Uses
Request an Exhibition Quote Request an Archival Quote

Please contact or visit with any questions about the license types listed here.



Stream Single Title

Title Awards Image Major Exhibitions/Festivals Description
Sea in the Blood

Equal First Prize for Best Male Short, Inside Out, Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

Sea in the Blood

OutFest (LA, CA.), 2001

Rotterdam International Film Festival (The Netherlands), 2001


Athens Int'l Film/Video Festival (OH), 2001



Sea In The Blood is a personal documentary about living with illness, tracing the relationship of the artist to thalassemia in his sister Nan, and AIDS in his partner Tim. At the core of the piece are two trips. The first is in 1962, when Richard went from Trinidad to England with Nan to see a famous hematologist interested in her unusual case. The second is in 1977 when Richard and Tim made the counterculture pilgrimage from Europe to Asia. The relationship with Tim blossomed, but Nan died before their return. The narrative of love and loss is set against a background of colonialism in the Caribbean and the reverberations of migration and political change.

"Sea in the Blood was to be a meditation on race, sexuality and disease, but after working with the material for three years, it was the emotional story that came through. It's hard to work with such personal material, but in the end the work takes on a life of its own. 'Richard' is a character. Because of the subject matter — disease and death — I wanted to avoid sentimentality. I'd like the audience to think as well as feel."

— Richard Fung