1984, Nancy Holt
Dark Star Park was commissioned by Arlington County, Virginia in 1979, in conjunction with an urban-renewal project. Construction of the work began in 1984. Holt worked with an architect, landscape architect, engineers, and real estate developers on the project. The artwork is at once a park and a sculpture. Built on two-thirds of an acre of land where a run-down, old gas station and warehouse once stood, Holt transformed the space. The park consists of five spheres, two pools, four steel poles, a stairway, a large tunnel for passage, a smaller tunnel for viewing only and plantings of crown vetch, winter creeper, willow oak, and earth and grass. The forms stand in stark contrast to the busy and highly developed commercial area that surrounds the space. There are places to walk and sit within the park, giving a passersby a chance to escape from the urban environment. Dark Star Park is more socially interactive than Holt’s other works. Holt paid attention to how people both inside and outside the park would see the spheres. The work alters the viewer’s perception by using curvilinear forms, such as the walkways that mimic the curving roads surrounding the site. Walking in the park or driving by it, viewers may mistake spheres of different sizes to actually be the same size or one sphere may eclipse another. The tunneled passages into the park frame certain sculptural elements, as do the reflections in the pools. However, Holt has made sure not to alienate the park entirely from its surroundings. The spheres are made of gunite (a sprayable mixture of cement and sand), asphalt, precast concrete tunnels, steel poles and stone masonry. These materials relate the park to the buildings located near the artwork. The work explores the concept of time and our relationship to the universe. When approaching one of the spheres, a visitor to the park might be reminded of the lunar surface or when glancing at the quiet pools of water around the spheres, may relate them to craters. This is no coincidence. Holt has a fascination with solar eclipses, as well as in the shadows cast by the sun on the surface of the earth and the name of the park is a reference to the astronomical appearance of the large spheres that are its most distinct features. In speaking about the name Holt has said, "It’s called Dark Star Park because in my imagination these spheres are like stars that have fallen to the ground-they no longer shine-so I think of the park/artwork in a somewhat celestial way." By engaging the viewer with these spheres and the other elements surrounding them in the park, Holt brings the vast scale of nature and the cosmos back to human scale. Time is also a major part of this work. Once a year on August 1 at 9:32 am, the shadows cast by two of the spheres and their four adjacent poles align with permanent asphalt shadow patterns outlined on the ground. This date was selected by the artist to commemorate the day in 1860 when William Ross bought the land that today is Rosslyn, Virginia, where the park is situated. The work was surveyed in June 1995. At that time “treatment was needed.”. Thus, seven years later, when the park was finally restored in 2002 it was long overdue.