Renaming Nancy Holt

Sun Tunnels 1973-76 © Estate of Nancy Holt/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Estate of Nancy Holt.

Artwork name: Sun Tunnels, 1973-76. Artist: Nancy Holt

Was American artist Nancy Holt a fan of Duchamp’s work? I truly hope she was, because perhaps that might be the only way she could forgive me for the name I am giving to one of her masterpieces, her Sun Tunnels. 

Massive and austere, the four Sun Tunnels created by Holt are mysterious and inspiring.

…and they do evoke all that on me, but they also remind me of… 

…yes, toilet paper rolls. Empty ones, to be more precise.

And is there anything in the world more distressing than an empty toilet roll? Is there a more dramatic experience than reach out hoping to find toilet paper to be instead faced with emptiness?

That’s why the new name I am proposing for Holt’s masterpiece is «Panic Attack (Empty Toilet Rolls)«

So getting back to where we started, I think with this new name Holt’s work would sit nicely next to Duchamp’s Fountain, don’t you agree?

But who is Nancy Holt, and did she get inspiration from her toilet to create this piece?

Nancy Holt was an American artist best known for her public sculpture, installation art, and land art. What do we mean by “land art”? Also called “earth art”, land art means art that is made directly in the landscape, “sculpting the land itself or making structures in the landscape”.

Land art by Robert Smithson (left) and Tanya Preminger (right)

Nancy Holt began her career in photography, poetry, and video, but a visit to Las Vegas desert with her husband Robert Smithson (also a Land artist) inspired her. “We stepped off the plane into the vastness of the desert. I had an overwhelming experience of my inner landscape and the outer landscape being identical. It lasted for days. I couldn’t sleep” she declared. 

And it seems that insomnia was real because some years later she bought 40 acres of land in the desert between Utah and Nevada and installed there what became her defining work, the Sun Tunnels: four cylindrical structures made of concrete, positioned in a cross formation on the desert’s floor. And it’s perhaps difficult to see through pictures, but the “tunnels” are absolutely massive: each is 18-foot-long and tall enough for a viewer to walk inside without ducking.

One surprising feature of Holt’s tunnels is that their orientation is not casual: she calibrated it perfectly so that the four tubes frame the sun during the summer and winter solstices. They also have small holes that let small discs of light enter the inside and depict existing celestial constellations.

During the solstices (June 21st and December 21st) the sun can be seen on the horizon centered through the tunnels.

But the most interesting thing about the Sun Tunnels is that, according to Holt, they are in fact not the work of art. What? Where is the art then?

“Actually, choosing these sites as places for people to experience and see, that’s the work”, Holtz declared. The tunnels are a place from where to experience the desert, and the view is the artwork.

What Holt wanted is to bring you to that exact place and make you see the landscape through a different lens. So one could argue that the only way to actually see Holt’s artwork is to go there and experience it in person. Next holiday plans?

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