Sun Tunnels is a twenty-six-minute film showing the making of Holt’s eponymous earthwork Sun Tunnels, located in the Great Basin Desert, Utah. Sun Tunnels comprises four concrete cylinders arranged in the landscape in an X formation, each 18 feet long and 9 feet diameter, perforated with a constellation of small apertures emitting patterns of light inside the tube. As Holt describes in a 1977 essay, published in Artforum, the tunnels mark “the yearly extreme positions of the sun on the horizon—the tunnels being aligned with the angles of the rising and setting of the sun on the days of the solstices, around June 21st and December 21st.”
The film starts noisily, showing construction of the tunnels and their transportation to, and installation in, the Great Basin Desert. Holt noted Sun Tunnels involved thirty-two co-workers, the team including two engineers, an astronomer, ten concrete pipe company workers, one road grader, and a helicopter pilot. In the film she demonstrates the skill of, and her great respect for, the labor involved in creating this sculpture. Once Sun Tunnels is completed the film shows it from the air and from the nearby roadway, the sounds of construction replaced by rotating helicopter blades and a moving car engine. The film closes with near silence, showing stunning footage of the changing sun and light in the tunnels on the solstices. The end titles note “inside the tunnels it is cool during the day and there is an echo.” In its portrait of an earthwork, this film shows Holt’s precise process and careful attention to site, place, time, and perception.