Pandit Pran Nath La Monte Young Marian Zazeela Jung Hee Choi Charles Curtis Terry Jennings Angus Maclise Richard Maxfield Just Alap Raga Ensemble The Theater of Eternal Music Kirana Center Teaching Program

Marian Zazeela

Biographical Narrative

As one of only a few contemporary artists to use light as a medium of expression, I have, of necessity, taken a very individual direction. In over three decades of work in a variety of media encompassing painting, calligraphic drawing, graphic design, film, light projection, stage design, sculpture and environment, my most ambitious and creative works have involved the medium of light.

Extending the traditional concepts of painting and sculpture while incorporating elements of both disciplines, I developed a singular visual language in the medium of light by combining colored light mixtures with sculptural forms to create seemingly three-dimensional colored shadows in radiant vibrational fields. In site-specific installations, light and scale are manipulated in such a way that the colored shadows, in their apparent corporeality, become indistinguishable from the sculptural forms, enveloping the viewer in a continual interplay of reality and illusion.

I have been drawing and painting since I was in grade school. During my last two years at Bennington College, in the atmosphere created by the members of the Art Department under Paul Feeley's guiding spirit, I began to find an original and personal direction in my work, and produced a major group of paintings and graphics. Through the opportunity of studying with such inspiring figures as Feeley, Eugene Goossen and Tony Smith, I was able to participate in an atmosphere of tremendous intellectual and creative stimulation. Among other events, Barnett Newman's first public showing in over ten years, including the monumental "Vir Heroicus Sublimus," was mounted at the College Art Gallery, and without doubt had a profound conceptual impact on my developing imagination. Following a successful senior show and graduation, I was invited by the Art Department faculty to represent Bennington at my first New York exhibition, held at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in 1960.

The large canvasses I painted during this period contained calligraphic strokes suspended in expansive static color fields. These calligraphic elements, I gradually discovered, were the seeds for much of the visual work I would produce over the years to come. I continued painting for several years, and devoted much time to calligraphic drawing. But I also began working with many other media and art forms, including poetry, film and photography. It was in 1961 and '62 that I performed for the filmmaker Jack Smith, and was featured in his historic publication, The Beautiful Book, which included one of my calligraphic drawings on the cover. Smith then created his film Flaming Creatures for me, and I appeared in the cameo still segments of this infamous masterpiece. Amidst all of this, I created my first lightwork in 1962. And, in 1962, I began my long-term collaboration with the composer La Monte Young, creating the lighting and graphic material for his concerts and performing as a vocalist in his ensembles.

My work in light has taken the direction of performance in the slide projection series, Ornamental Lightyears Tracery (1965- c. 1977; revived 1992), of sculpture in the series Still Light (1985-present) and recent neon pieces (1989-present), and of environmental installation in Dusk/Dawn Adaptation (c. 1967-70), Magenta Day / Magenta Night (1989-present) and the various realizations of Light (1966-present).

Ornamental Lightyears Tracery developed from a slide projection series begun in 1964, which combined elements of my calligraphic drawings with light to create a performance work utilizing multiple projectors. In this work, negative and positive versions of my static overall designs were projected and superimposed to become slowly shifting visual fields of continuously changing color and focus. By the 1968 premiere at the Pasadena Art Museum, the work had become a more complex series of slides based on a modular interlocking design. Each performance of Ornamental Lightyears Tracery was a unique realization of the work in which the performer, in effect, was painting with light, continuously improvising the entire series of sixty slides during concerts of over three hours duration, through deliberate manipulation of focus, color, brightness, and sequence of four projectors whose images were simultaneously superimposed. Ornamental Lightyears Tracery was presented throughout the U.S. and Europe, including performances at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Maeght Foundation, St. Paul de Vence; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Documenta 5, Kassel; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Dia Art Foundation, New York.

In 1967, I began experimenting with environmental pieces involving the change in perception caused by the eye's adaptation to intensely colored dichroic lights. I later formalized these experiments in a work entitled Dusk Adaptation Environment, in which observers experience their subjective perceptual alteration by looking through windows at the apparently radically transformed afternoon and twilight skies. It was exhibited at Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich (1969) and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1970). Although I presented the work only twice, its implications concerning the subjective perception of colored light have continued to be a significant factor for my work with light to this day.

Over the years, I constructed several lightboxes utilizing calligraphic cutout designs. In 1967, I received a commission from Betty Freeman to create a light and sound object in collaboration with La Monte Young. The resulting work, Music and Light Box (1968) was selected by Pontus Hulten for inclusion in "The Machine" show, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in November 1968 and traveled to the University of St. Thomas, Houston, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Following and developing on my work as a vocalist with La Monte Young and The Theatre of Eternal Music, in 1970 I became a disciple of the great Indian master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath, and undertook the study of the Kirana style of Indian classical music. This study, with its foundations rooted in Vedic philosophy and a rare combination of Hindu and Sufi traditions, opened new dimensions of artistic awareness for me. It has indirectly influenced and enriched the development of my artistic output while providing a path for my spiritual growth as well. Through the course of my studies I had the opportunity to travel to India several times, and accompanied Pandit Pran Nath at concerts both on tambura and as a vocalist. I teach raga and voice at the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music that he established in New York City. In fact, although I am first a visual artist, my involvement with music has become so deep that in working as a performer with La Monte Young and Pandit Pran Nath over the years, I have participated in hundreds of concerts as a musician.

By 1968, I had discovered a phenomenon inherent to light that allowed me to work with the medium in a new way. By focusing precisely positioned colored lights on suspended three-dimensional forms (mobiles), I was able to transform the appearance and color of the resultant shadows, and to develop large-scale, site-specific environmental works composed of the interrelationships of the mobile forms and their shadows to the space. I eventually categorized all of my work of this nature under the title Light.

In the early ‘60s, I founded The Theatre of Eternal Music with La Monte Young to present our work in performance. As artistic director of this ensemble, I create the visual component of the sound and light work, Dream House (1969-present), a major ongoing architectural project involving the presentation of continuous sound and light. The environmental aspect of this collaboration became known as "sound and light environments," an art form that we essentially founded and established. The ultimate design of each installation is determined by the architectural structure of the exhibition site, thereby making each light environment a unique work with its own shape and dimensions. The first environment of the genre Light was exhibited in the Dream House at Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich, in 1969. Often combined with Young's sounds, I have presented Dream Houses, light installations, performances and calligraphic drawing exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. Installations have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Documenta 5, Kassel, and more recently, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, Ruine der Künste, Berlin, Espace Donguy, Paris, the 44th Biennale, Venice, Dia Center for the Arts, New York, Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf, MELA Foundation's "La Monte Young 30-Year Retrospective," New York, and Köln Kunstverein.

Under a ten-year commission from the Dia Art Foundation from 1975-1985, Young and I developed a project for long-term installation, culminating in the six-year continuous Dream House presentation (1979-85) set in the six-story former NY Mercantile Exchange building on Harrison Street in New York City. During this time, we presented multiple interrelated sound and light environments, exhibitions and performances, established research and listening facilities, and an archive of our works and those of other contemporary artists. I created one of the largest realizations of my work Light with the installation of The Magenta Lights in the 5,000 square-foot Trading Floor of this landmark building, with a majestic 30-foot ceiling upon which the light sources projected the mobiles' shadows. The transcendent qualities of light, color, form and shadow powerfully altered this monumental space, eliciting Ronny Cohen's Artforum description: "Zazeela transforms material into pure and intense color sensations, and makes a perceptual encounter a spiritual experience. The Magenta Lights is an environmental piece in every sense of the word. What Zazeela has represented is the subtle relationship between precision and spirituality."

In 1989-90, I presented a one-year sound and light environment collaboration with Young, The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base) in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119 / Time Light Symmetry at Dia Art Foundation's 22nd Street exhibition space in NYC. In addition to the Time Light Symmetry light environment, this installation included sculptures from my Still Light series, and my first work in neon, Dream House Variation I. The context and exposure of this large, alternative-space museum brought my work to an even larger public, and led to commissions from Espace Donguy and the DAAD for installations in Paris (1990) and Berlin (1992). The entire Dream House exhibition at Espace Donguy, Paris, including the light environment, Primary Light, the sculpture Untitled M/B (1989) from Still Light, the second permutation of the neon sculpture, Dream House Variation II (1990), and the environment Magenta Day / Magenta Night (1990), was purchased by the French Government Cultural Ministry National Foundation of Contemporary Art for eventual permanent installation in France.

The 1992 Berlin Dream House, under the auspices of a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) residency, took place in a wooded, residential section of the city in an artfully restored, bombed-out mansion, the Ruine der Künste. The extremely high ceiling in one of the rooms, and the various views provided through doorways, windows and other apertures between the rooms, inspired my environment, Transfigured Light (1992). The installation included a sculpture from my Still Light series, Ruine Window, and the site also permitted my first outdoor neon sculpture, Dream House Variation III, mounted on the roof of the building and visible through the trees throughout the neighborhood.

In 1992-93, I received a commission from MELA Foundation to create a seven-year sound and light environment installation with La Monte Young in New York City, in a loft that was renovated by MELA Foundation for this purpose. Opened to the public in October '93, the Dream House: Seven Years of Sound and Light installation includes the environments Imagic Light (1993), and a realization of Magenta Day / Magenta Night (1993), the sculpture Ruine Window (1992) from the Berlin installation, and the neon, Dream House Variation I, on loan from a private collection for this exhibition. The installation, now extended for eight more years, is currently on view at MELA Foundation two days a week from 2:00 PM to Midnight, from the Fall Equinox through the Summer Solstice each year.

From November 1994 through January 1995, my light sculpture Sound / With / In (1989) was installed in the exhibition Hors Limites at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, in a special room with the large Gong for La Monte Young made by the sculptor Robert Morris. A sound environment created by Young from his work, Studies in the Bowed Disc, which he and I performed and recorded in 1963, accompanied the installation. One side of the entrance corridor to the installation room was an expansive glass wall that I treated with magenta gel to create an installation of the light environment, Magenta Day / Magenta Night. This magenta environment was visible from the grand lobby of the museum and simultaneously utilized the natural sunlight during the day to create both a color-enhanced interior environment and a magenta-colored view of the external world from within. In addition, I exhibited selected drawings from the '60s, and presented photostatic documentation of the designs and cibachrome photographs of performances of Ornamental Lightyears Tracery for four simultaneously superimposed projectors and modular set of 60 graphically interlocking, quadrilaterally-symmetrical slides.

In February and March 1995, I created two different light environment settings for Young's string quartet, Chronos Kristalla, an evening-length work. The New York premiere by the Kronos Quartet took place at BAM's Majestic Theatre, where I sequenced slowly dissolving colors on the poetically-configured back wall of the stage while alternating complimentary and contrasting colors on the musicians. The Austrian premiere by Klangforum Wien took place in a 13th century Gothic church in Krems, where I combined fixed-beam spotlights focused on specific architectural details of the ceiling and archways surrounding the quartet, with the gradually fading sunlight beaming through the high-vaulted window apertures and the prominent rose window. I gave lecture demonstrations about my light works during the two-week-long symposium Tuned in Krems, and in the series Linked by Light at Pratt Institute in March, 1995.

After studying with Pandit Pran Nath and accompanying him in concert for 26 years, in May 1996, I sang and played tambura to accompany Pandit Pran Nath in two intimate Raga Cycle performances in the New York Dream House Imagic Light environment. Sadly, these beautiful concerts turned out to be the last public performances Pandit Pran Nath was to give to the world. He died only three and a half weeks later in Berkeley, California on June 13, 1996. His passing is a great loss to the world of music and especially to me personally since he gave so much to the development of my life as a creative artist.

The first book of our work, La Monte Young / Marian Zazeela: Selected Writings, was published by Heiner Friedrich in 1969 and has been long out of print. In December 1996, Bucknell University Press published Sound and Light: La Monte Young Marian Zazeela. It is the most comprehensive book to date and includes several in depth essays on my work and about our collaboration, as well as some of my own writings.

In February 1999, we reinstalled the Dream House in the collection of the French government for an exhibition at the Musée Art Contemporain in Lyon. Filling the entire top floor of the impressive Renzo Piano museum structure, it is probably the second largest single room installation we have ever made, comparing in scale with the main room of the Dia 6-year Harrison Street Dream House. Although the Harrison Street building was six stories, the main installation room was about 142,100 cubic feet, while the Lyon Dream House was about 101,598 cubic feet. On the other hand, the Harrison Street Dream House main room was 4,900 square feet, while the Lyon Dream House was actually 6,195 square feet. It is an interesting comparison. Both projects stand among our most highly realized works. Each space is different, but the Lyon Dream House was notable for its juxtaposition of the elements of monumentality and minimalism. The blue and magenta gel design of the glass-roofed space combined with the light sculptures and the swirling eddies of harmonically related twin prime frequencies, created a virtual poetry of subtle shifts in color and sound.

For La Beauté, the French Celebration of the Year 2000 exhibition to take place throughout the city of Avignon, La Monte Young and I were given an entire church dedicated to our work. The 45-foot vaulted domes of the Église St. Joseph became the canvas for a site-specific light installation of my design, and the setting for the world premiere DVD presentation of the 1987 six and one-half hour continuous performance of our collaborative work, The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights, which was on view daily throughout the four-month exhibition. This documentary of the longest performance to date of the work, was shot in 1987 but funds were not available to produce it until 2000. I operated one of the two cameras documenting the marathon solo performance by La Monte Young in the environmental setting The Magenta Lights.

Also in 2000, Kunst im Regenbogenstadl, a new art center in Polling, Bavaria, mounted a nearly six-month long comprehensive exhibition of my drawings, from May through October. Accompanying the exhibition, the center published a fully illustrated catalog including reproductions of 71 works, with essays on my work by Uli Schaegger, Henry Flynt, as well as my own analysis.