Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels

I knew that Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1976) had to do with orienting one’s self to the surroundings, but I’d always thought more about them (in the abstract – through photos) in terms of how they related to the patterns of the sun, the constellations, etc. But in the same way Walter DeMaria’s Lightning Field doesn’t need lightning, the Sun Tunnels don’t need a solstice, or other solar or celestial event.

When I went to see them, in what felt impressively close to the middle of nowhere in Utah, I was astonished at how obvious it was that they framed the landscape, the horizon, the surrounding mountains, the sky, the clouds, and directed me to look through both small peepholes (mostly at sky, clouds, and mountains) and expansive vistas (mostly to the horizons). It was fun to be pointed toward and discover the different views, and I took pictures like crazy—the whole thing almost seemed like one elaborate invitation to look at the parts of the landscape as if through the aperture of a camera. (It was nice just to look at it, too, without the camera.)

This 2003 essay, by James Trainor, in Frieze is nice; he calls the tunnels “optical to the point of being photographic”.

The elliptical shadows reminded me of Serra’s much more recent Torqued Ellipses, and the Sun Tunnels, like the Torqued Ellipses, had just as playful a vibe. Is there something about ellipses that makes people feel good and kids want to play?

The new book on Holt’s work, edited by Alena Williams (UC Press, 2011) is excellent, by the way, and makes me want all the photographic archives of all the land/earth artists in one spot…like, one spot in Tucson. Unrealistic for a number of reasons, I’m sure, but fun to imagine.

p.s. For all the questions I get about being related to Josef Albers, it would be a fun change if anyone asked if I was related to Nancy Holt (my mother’s maiden name). Happily, there are some Holt artists I really am related to: Rebecca Holt Palmer, Sara Holt, and Virginia Holt.

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