Dedicated on June 14, 2012, Avignon Locators reactivates Missoula Ranch Locators–Vision Encompassed (1972) on the grounds of the University of Avignon, France. The original piece was dismantled in 2003, when the new owners of the Montana property decided to build a house on the plot. In late 2007, I suggested that the work should be reactivated in a similar—academic—context. Nancy Holt accepted and we—Laurence Belingard and myself—submitted the project to our respective institutions, Université d’Avignon and École supérieure d’art d’Avignon. It took another four years to convince them, select and survey the location, obtain permissions, transplant trees, fabricate the Locators, etc. Since we wanted to preserve the spirit of the original work, most of those who worked on the project were volunteers, including students, teachers, an architect, and an astrophysicist. Avignon Locatorsis a naked-eye observatory comprising 8 T-shaped stainless steel viewfinders set out in a circle 45 feet in diameter. The 5-foot-high posts are directed towards compass points (N, NW, W, SW, S, SE, E, NE) based on astronomical north. Nancy wanted a more durable and more accurate piece than the original. Since the galvanized steel in Montana had turned black, she wanted a brighter, hardwearing material. And instead of magnetic north, she chose to align this new sculpture with “true” north. Each Locator guides the viewer’s eye towards specific details of the site and virtually beyond, towards the North Star (Polaris). The Locators also point to their opposites. The viewer may stand either within the circle to look outward or outside the circle to look at the opposite post and the surrounding landscape. Deeply anchored on its graded plot, the circle is 5 feet larger in diameter than the original and the Locators are 2 inches shorter so that their full height is seen from the center of the opposite viewfinders.
Since the horizon is hidden by trees and buildings, the sun can only be viewed setting through the west Locator near the time of the equinoxes. What has been called “Avignon Locatorhenge” can be observed on September 16 at 7:25 PM and March 25* at 6:36 PM local time, and a couple of days before and after these dates. Such restricted points of view compel the visitor to develop a particular sensory experience of the site, making him the key element of the device as well as a geographic “center of the world” aligned with the stars. The Locators are simple tools that help the viewer become aware of his own senses, return to the basics of vision, and rethink the world around him. They orient him in space and highlight this unique historical site, including the medieval wall of the city and a monumental 17th and 18th-century façade. Avignon Locators is the only permanent work by Nancy Holt in France, the second in Europe—the other being in Finland.