Advent, Day 9

LOOK: Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt

Holt, Nancy_Sun Tunnels
Nancy Holt (American, 1938–2014), Sun Tunnels, 1973–76. Concrete, steel, and earth, each cylinder 18 feet long and 9 feet in diameter. Great Basin Desert, Utah. Owned by the Dia Art Foundation. Photo: Will Thompson.

A large-scale outdoor installation in northwestern Utah, Sun Tunnels by land artist Nancy Holt

consists of four large concrete cylinders, arranged on the desert floor in a cruciform pattern that aligns with the sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. In addition to this perfect solar framing, each of the cylinders is pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Holt’s design allows for an ever-changing play of celestial light and shadow upon the resolutely material surfaces of her work. Part timepiece and part compass, Sun Tunnels is also a “camera” of sorts, dependent on natural light, with the concrete tubes acting as viewfinders that frame precise images which, in Holt’s words, “bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale.” [source]

LISTEN: “Light Upon the Mountains” | Words by Henry Burton, 1910 | Music by Jackson T. Maust and Seth Thomas Crissman, 2015 | Performed by The Walking Roots Band on Hark! A Walking Roots Band Christmas, 2017

There’s a light upon the mountains and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty and the glory of the king:
Weary was our heart with waiting, and the night-watch seemed so long,
But his triumph-day is breaking and we hail it with a song.

In the fading of the starlight we may see the coming morn;
And the lights of all are paling in the splendors of the dawn:
For the eastern skies are glowing as with light of hidden fire,
And the hearts of all are stirring with the throbs of deep desire.

He is breaking down the barriers, he is gathering up the way;
He is calling for his angels to build up the gates of day:
But his angels here are human, not the shining hosts above;
For the drumbeats of his army are the heartbeats of our love.

Hark! we hear a distant music, and it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus, of our king, Immanuel!
Go ye forth with joy to meet Him! And, my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest for the glory of our king!

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Holt, Nancy_Sun Tunnels
Photo © Lindsay Daniels / Tandem Stills + Motion

2 thoughts on “Advent, Day 9

  1. In this region of Utah, artificial light is minimized by design, allowing for the majesty of natural light to be witnessed more fully. Holt’s artwork helps us to see the light with intentional awareness.


    1. Yes! What you’ve said reminds me of the quote by the filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami: “I’ve often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us, unless it’s inside a frame.” I’ve thought of this in relation to James Turrell’s Skyspaces and Kris Martin’s “Altar” too.


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