Sun Tunnels: Shifting Shadows

Nancy Holt
Inkjet print on archival rag paper; composite made by the artist from original 126 format transparencies
61 1/2 x 51 1/2 in. (156.2 x 130.8 cm)
Edition of 5 + 1AP

Sun Tunnels: Shifting Shadows  is a photographic artwork depicting the shifting patterns of light and shadow over the course of one long summer day in one tunnel of Nancy Holt’s landmark earthwork Sun Tunnels (1973-76), located in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. The sculpture comprises four concrete structures arranged in a cross formation, positioned to frame the sun as it rises and sets during the solstices. The composite of thirty photographs captures the changing light conditions photographed by Holt at regular intervals over the course of one day; capturing the movement of the sun through the shadow's journey from one side of the tunnel to the other, eventually capturing the artist’s own shadow and marking her presence. This photographic artwork makes material Holt’s desire to bring the stars down to earth, with the perforations in the surface of the tunnels mapping out star constellations, bringing the sunlight to the ground in an echo of the celestial pattern above. Holt captured this series of photographs in July 1976 shortly after the completion of Sun Tunnels, and along with this work she also shot the photographic composites Sun Tunnels: Sunrise and Sunlight in Sun Tunnels


Writing by the Artist

Sun Tunnels

Nancy Holt

Sun Tunnels, 1973–76, is built on forty acres, which I bought in 1974 specifically as a site for the work. The land is in the Great Basin Desert in northwestern Utah, about four miles southeast of Lucin (pop. ten) and nine miles east of the Nevada border.

Sun Tunnels marks 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. On those days the sun is centered through the tunnels, and is nearly center for about ten days before and after the solstices.

Scholarly Text

Everything and Nothing: On Nancy Holt’s "Sun Tunnels" (1973–76)

Julian Myers-Szupinska
Let me tell you some things I like about Earthworks. I use the designation “Earthworks” advisedly. Holt referred to her work as “Land Art,” seeing the quasi-genre of Earth Art and Earthworks as belonging to an earlier group of male artists, despite them also being her contemporaries, peers, and fellow travelers.

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