Artist Nancy Holt’s installations often occupy remote, rural spaces. Her large scale sculptures like Sun Tunnels offer alternative frames through which individuals can observe nature. But Dark Star Park is a much more public project. The first major art project commissioned by Arlington County is also Holt’s most urban creation, and was completed in 1984.
This is a historical monument that eschews typical historical monument conventions. Instead of a decorative archway or a statue of a man on horseback, the area features large concrete spheres designed to resemble fallen stars. Even the name masks its intentions: Dark Star Park commemorates August 1, 1860, the day William Ross bought the land that would become Rosslyn.
Towering black poles are erected along a winding trail meant to slow one’s pace and provide relief from the bustling city streets. The dead stars strewn about are taller than the nearby parked cars. The surreal park contrasts the surrounding grid of buildings and, as art critic Lucy Leppard noted, give each visitor “a sense of one’s individual place, at this very moment, in the universe.”
The spheres and poles in one section of the park feature oblong discs that mimic the shadows of the objects, and every year at 9:32 a.m. on August 1, the shadows line up perfectly for 60 seconds. As Holt explained it, every year, on the anniversary of Ross buying the land (as long as the weather cooperates) the park merges ‘historical time with the cyclical time of the sun.”