Yesterday we ushered in the summer of 2014 with a long awaited trip to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. We had been aware of Holt’s passing in February and heard through social media that there was to be a public informal memorial gathering hosted by her colleagues and friends to celebrate her life and accomplishments. With the anticipation of experiencing the sun set on the equinox, and a hope of meeting interesting people doing the same, we packed a lovely summer supper and hit the road. We were not disappointed.
The Sun Tunnels, as described by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, “is an artwork by Nancy Holt, completed in 1976, consisting of four large concrete tubes, laid out in the desert in an open X configuration. The nine foot diameter, 18 foot-long tunnels are pierced by holes of varying size that correspond with the pattern of selected celestial constellations. There is a tunnel for Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn. The tunnels line up with the rising and falling sun of the summer and winter solstices.”
We arrived in the late afternoon, allowing ourselves time to playfully inspect the tunnels. The wind blew dust in clouds across the open expanse, and through the tunnels. It was a visceral full body experience that included intense sensory stimulation from the bright sun, high wind, and fine dust. Even so, our children, Madeline and Caleb were mesmerized by the elliptical light projections, circle openings and the limited color palette of the work and the land. Initially, our voices seemed too loud, too interruptive to the meditative mood of the space but gradually, as the group increased in size, the growing hum of activity was sprinkled with laughter and levity.
When the sun was approaching the event horizon, Matthew Coolidge, Founder and Director of The Center for Land Use Interpretation; Hikmet Loe, Art Historian; Lucy Lippard, curator, critic, and activist and Bruria Finkel, artist and curator spoke briefly about their friendship with Nancy and her immense contribution to land art. The deeply moving reflections gave personal, historical and social context to the evening, and reminded us of the importance of belonging to a thriving and supportive art community.