Thursday, February 20, 2014

A memorial trip to Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels.

Relaxing at Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels
On February 8, 2014 Nancy Holt died. There are lots of reasons to like Nancy Holt. There's the fact that she shunned the traditional art world and its fascination with museums and galleries, refusing to force her work to be confined by walls. There's the fact that she and her husband Robert Smithson (creator of Spiral Jetty) chose to place their most famous works in remote areas of Utah; Utah of all places! And there's the fact that in the world of Earth Art, a field dominated by powerful male perspectives, Nancy Holt not only held her own, she rose to a place of significant prominence. And God knows the art world can use more independent, powerful feminist voices.

In celebration of her life and to mark her passing, I decided a weekend trip to Holt's most famous work, Sun Tunnels, was in order. A trip to Sun Tunnels is no small effort.  It's about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City and finding it can be tricky. I recommend visiting this website for detailed driving instructions including photographs that help you navigate key turns.  Believe me, once you've left the highway and are navigating the dirt roads of Utah's West desert, it can be difficult knowing where you need to go.

While the drive is long and takes you through some fairly remote areas, it creates an experience that I think is a key part of all great Earth Art.  It forces the viewer to leave behind the noise of urban life and embrace a different canvas.  The expansiveness of the American West is a great visual release that overwhelms with its vastness. And it's a great way to prepare for the vision of an artist like Holt.

Utah's vast West Desert as dramatic back drop.

It's surprising that Nancy Holt is able to corral those big, overwhelming vistas and make them something more consumable. Sun Tunnels succeeds because it delivers on Holt's desire to capture the universe and make it personal.  By framing and organizing our views of the world around us, Holt changes our relationship to the environment and our universe. We are somehow able to understand the infinity of nature in a very personal way.

I enjoyed this trip so much, I'm considering a return for the summer solstice, when the rising and setting sun is aligned perfectly with two of the  tunnels.

Felix looking all "James Bond" wandering through the Sun Tunnels.

Smithson's Spiral Jetty gets more attention than Sun Tunnels, and certainly more visitors.  But I'm not sure that's fair.  I'm glad both works are here in Utah, making the state something of an Earth Art mecca. Holt's work has aged beautifully over the last nearly 40 years and the intent of the sculpture seems more powerful now than it did the first time I saw it over a decade ago. I'm guessing Holt is pleased with her effort to create this intriguing work.

If you're a resident of Utah and you haven't visited Sun Tunnels, the trip is well worth the effort.

But enough talk, here are a bunch more photos from my most recent visit.

Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels framing the landscape.

Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels framing the landscape.

Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels framing the landscape.

Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels framing the landscape.

The vastness of Utah's West desert juxtaposed with Holt's
Sun Tunnels. And the Jeep we rented to make the trek.
A concrete wreath we laid at the outskirts of
Sun Tunnels in memory of Nancy Holt.

Detail of the brass ribbon on the memorial wreath.

Interacting with Sun Tunnels amid the vastness of
Utah's West desert.

Interacting with Sun Tunnels amid the vastness of
Utah's West desert.

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