O’Neill Re-imagines “Sun Tunnels”

By Holly Vasic

University of Utah Honors College graduate Kelly O’Neill, originally from Albuquerque, N.M., jumped at the chance to get out of his hometown and come to Salt Lake City for college. As a child, O’Neill describes himself as “a big nerd, really into science and math, captain of the chess team.” However, his high school AP Psychology teacher influenced a change. O’Neill remembers when he got to the U he had the opportunity to do whatever he wanted, so that’s what he did. He now has an Honors College degree in photography and a minor in art history. O’Neill adored his experience at the Honors College so much he is now an advisor there.

O’Neill explains the Honors College as a “small liberal arts college within the larger university. You take eight different classes with a thesis at the end.” O’Neill is very appreciative of associate professor Edward Bateman for working with him on his thesis and for being an incredible mentor.

Currently, O’Neill has an exhibit on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA). The 3-D printed models and computer generated photography collection is titled “Rend/er”and reinterprets Nancy Holt’s “Sun Tunnels.” In 1973, Holt purchased land about 200 miles from Salt Lake City and constructed four concrete tunnels, 9 feet tall and 18 feet long, with perforated holes in the shape of different constellations. O’Neill fell in love with Land Art, which he defines as “an art movement in the 1970s that goes outside the gallery to make art people have to interact with.” Holt is his favorite Land Artist, but he understands not everyone can make it out to experience her work. “Rend/er” asks “how close can one get to the tunnels without ever stepping outside?” O’Neill understands there are aspects of the tunnels that are lost when you are not standing in the desert experiencing them, but his 3-D models of the tunnels have as much detail as possible in order to represent them. The display at UMOCA even uses sand O’Neill dug out of the earth near the tunnels. The photography aspect of his exhibit is even more accessible, available to anyone with access to the internet, which O’Neill is ecstatic about.

Land Art’s attempt to get out of galleries aligned with O’Neill’s beliefs.

“Buying and selling artwork is a weird thing. A gallery is for profit, a showroom, meant to be bought,” he said.

Having the opportunity to display his work at UMOCA, which is not a gallery, was exciting for him.

“UMOCA is the best art place in town, I love this place, being able to show there was crazy, kind of unbelievable, a huge honor,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill hopes to continue his art studies and eventually get a master’s in fine arts, but he would like to keep his work a non-profit endeavor. Eventually he wants to use the skills he has learned to be a manager in the non-profit art sector, or he says, “I could teach, but that’s its own can of worms.”

[email protected]