MARIAN ZAZEELA is one of the first contemporary artists to use light as a medium of expression and perhaps the first to compose recurring motivic and thematic statements and permutations with light over time as in music. Over more than five decades, Zazeela has exhibited a unique iconographic vision in media encompass- ing painting, calligraphic drawing, graphics, film, light performance, sculpture and environment. Expanding the traditional concepts of painting and sculpture while incorporating elements of both disciplines, she created an original visual language in the medium of light by combining colored light mixtures with sculptural forms to generate seemingly three-dimensional colored shadows in radiant vibrational fields. 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 the continual interplay of reality and illusion. “While the shadows on the wall change shape, the fixed geometry that produces them yields a uniform intensity of color. This luminous shadow is, paradoxically, more present, constant and solid in appearance than the object that produces it….This phenomenal reversal demonstrates that the relationship between the physical and the perceptual is far more subtle and malleable than is commonly understood,” (Ted Krueger, Interior Atmospheres (Architectural Design; Wiley, Profile No 193, Vol 78, No 3; pp. 12-15; May- June 2008). Zazeela’s work has taken the directions of performance in Ornamental Lightyears Tracery, sculpture in the series Still Light and neon Dream House Variations I-IV, environment in Dusk/ Dawn Adaptation, Magenta Day/Magenta Night, and her major work Light, and video projection in Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals.
As artistic director of The Theatre of Eternal Music, she creates the works that form the innovative visual components of Dream House, a sound and light work in which she collaborates with composer La Monte Young. Zazeela has presented Dream Houses, light installations, performances, and calligraphic drawing exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. Major installations include the 2009 Guggenheim Museum exhibition, The Third Mind, American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989; the 2005 Lyon Biennale; Tate Liverpool; Pompidou Center, Paris; Ruine der Künste, Berlin; 44th Venice Biennale; Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf; MELA Foundation’s “La Monte Young 30-Year Retrospective,” New York City; and Köln Kunstverein. She has received grants from the NEA, EAT, CAPS, Lannan, and Cassandra Foundations. In 2009 she was the recipient with Young of the first Yoko Ono COURAGE Award in the arts to honor their having “never strayed from giving their uniquely creative efforts in Art to the world.”
Under a commission from the Dia Art Foundation (1979-85), Zazeela and Young collaborated in a six-year continuous Dream House presentation set in the six-story Harrison Street building in New York City, featuring multiple interrelated sound and light environments, exhibitions, performances, research and listening facilities, and archives. Arts Magazine described the centerpiece of this installation: “There is a retreat to reverie as if one were staring up into the summer night sky. The Magenta Lights is experienced as a meteorological or astronomical event, a changing color display above one’s head, like an art equivalent of the Northern Lights” And Artforum wrote: “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.”
Zazeela’s work has been significantly influential. Her abstract calligraphy was the primary influence on the calligraphy of the great poet and founding drummer of The Theatre of Eternal Music and the Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise. The visionary tradition of her curvilinear graphite on black and dot-style calligraphic drawings has also been carried on and taken to a highly imaginative level in the pencil and pinhole drawings of her senior visual arts and raga disciple, Jung Hee Choi. Zazeela’s Ornamental Lightyears Tracery has been credited by Glenn Branca in Forced Exposure #16, 1990, and by David Sprague in Your Flesh # 28, 1993, to have been the direct influence on Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
From 1961 to 1962, Zazeela worked extensively with legendary filmmaker Jack Smith. She was the featured model in The Beautiful Book (dead language press, 1962) and appeared in Smith’s revolutionary Flaming Creatures, which was written for her and for which she also created the calligraphy for the film titles and credits. In 1964, Zazeela was filmed for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (Andy Warhol Screen Tests, Harry N. Abrams, 2006) and selected to be one of the models included in his Thirteen Most Beautiful Women series.
Zazeela began singing with Young in 1962 as a founding member of The Theatre of Eternal Music, and performed as vocalist in almost every concert of the ensemble to date. In 1970, she became one of the first Western disciples of renowned master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath and has since performed and taught the Kirana style of Indian classical music. She accompanied Pandit Pran Nath in hundreds of concerts through- out the world and continues to perform in The Just Alap Raga Ensemble, which she founded with Young and Choi in 2002.
Zazeela’s 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 (Dia Art Foundation, 22nd Street, NYC 1989-90) was acclaimed by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann as “some of the strangest and most forward-looking art New York has to offer.” Her 1990 Donguy Gallery, Paris, exhibition of light works, purchased by the French Cultural Ministry National Foundation of Contemporary Art (FNAC) for their permanent collection, was exhibited in 1999 on the entire top floor of the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art, and in 2004/05 at the Pompidou Centre in the exhibition Sons et Lumières. Zazeela’s current long-term installation, Imagic Light, forms a part of the Dream House Sound and Light Environment, which has been presented at MELA Foundation, New York since 1993. Sound and Light: La Monte Young / Marian Zazeela, published by Bucknell University Press in 1996, provides an in-depth collection of primary source materials on her work.
At the invitation of the French government for La Beauté exhibition celebrating the Year 2000, Young and Zazeela created a four-month Dream House in St. Joseph Chapel in Avignon. The installation featured the continuous DVD projection of the 1987 six-hour 24-minute perfor- mance of their collaborative masterwork, The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights, in a site-specific light environment created by Zazeela. The art center, Kunst im Regenbogenstadl, Polling, Bavaria, presented a comprehensive solo exhibition of Zazeela’s drawings from May through October 2000, accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog including essays, photo- graphs, documentation, and reproductions of 71 works. From May through October 2001, Kunst im Regenbogenstadl initiated a long-term light installation designed by Zazeela, featuring The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights DVD projection, two new sculptures from her Still Light series, an installation of Magenta Day / Magenta Night, and her neon work, Dream House Variation III. The installation has continued through the present with the inclusion of a new video projection work, S symmetry V.1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals, based on her Word Portraits series, as well as the video installation of the March 21, 2009 concert from the Guggenheim Dream House of The Just Alap Raga Ensemble performing Young’s Raga Sundara in Zazeela’s Imagic Light II. In 2010, in celebration of the 1000 year anniversary of the village of Polling, a large new entrance gallery space was added in Regenbogenstadl featuring two symmetrically placed pairs of Zazeela’s signature mobiles in a configuration of The Magenta Lights with a sound environment of The Opening Chord from The Well-Tuned Piano.
In 2012, Zazeela created Dream House installations and performed with The Just Alap Raga Ensemble in five Pandit Pran Nath Memorial Tribute Tour concerts in Berlin, Karlsruhe ,and Polling, Bavaria, with live video streaming of the Berlin concerts to the Angelika Festival, Bologna and Fondazione Mudima, Milan.
The Village Voice listed the MELA Church Street Dream House as the Best Art Installation in New York 2014, “A charge for the mind as much as for the eye and ear, the Dream House feels like a gift to our beleaguered city, where headspace is the most precious real estate of all.”
In 2015, the Dia Art Foundation acquired a unique version of the La Monte Young Marian Zazeela Jung Hee Choi Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, which was open to the general public from June 13, 2015 to October 24, 2015. This site-specific installation featured five light works by Zazeela; Neon, Dream House Variation IV (2009); Sculpture, Ruine Window 1992 II (2015) from Still Light; Sculpture, Open Rectangle II (2015) from Still Light; Installation, Imagic Light III (2015) from Light; Environment, Magenta Day / Magenta Night 545 West 22nd Street Skylights and Window (2015). The Village Voice wrote about her mesmerizing light works, “Zazeela’s works play light, shadow, and color — the elements essential to form and its perception — off of one another. I spent a great deal of time looking in particular at Imagic Light III (2015), two thin curls of white aluminum suspended from the ceiling. Illuminated by two theatrical lights, one red and the other blue, the curls take on those hues while at the same time creating colored shadows on the wall behind them. Up close, the piece’s quiet dazzle is a meditation on light and color. Seen from a distance, however, the shadows appear to take on a material presence, and the eye has to flex itself a little differently to distinguish the artwork from its cast silhouettes.” (August 25, 2015)