This spring, visual and performance artist William Pope.L opened the largest museum show of his work to date at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Lighting designer Kathy Pryzgoda’s charged experience lighting the exhibition’s foundational piece, Trinket, has inspired her to push for greater creative expression among the competing interests of architectural lighting design.

“I love working with artists, because where they start and where they end is a passionate desire to make art. And that’s very fulfilling for me,” explained Pryzgoda, principal of Light Studio LA in Los Angeles. “Also, they’re wonderful collaborators. This exercise of working with the artist and having him support the lighting design vision throughout…. That’s where I’m from, the theater and creating art.”

Chicago-based artist Pope.L (pronounced pope-el) also has a strong background on the stage and is best known for his disconcerting performance art. His “crawls” are his trademark performance genre, in which he crawls along streets and landscapes, disrupting our sense of bodily and social propriety. Pope.L’s body of confrontational works often addresses race, endurance and deprivation.

Trinket is the contrary title of an oversize, enveloping work that dominates the massive Geffen Contemporary space in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. The title work of the show, it is a custom-made 54 by 16 ft American flag (note the 51st star added). During exhibit hours, the flag is blown continuously by four loud industrial fans. The billowing flag is iconic, commonly seen from a distance in an outdoor setting; transported indoors, up close and personal at the Geffen.

»WATCH THE VIDEO: Pope.L opens up and talks about the themes of discord, duration, and democracy that are animated by Trinket.

Over the course of the exhibit, which closes June 28, the whipping of the flag is causing the stitching to fray; the tattered strips dance in the breeze. Pope.L shows the symbol of America in the world literally coming apart at the seams along with its high-flying resilience.

The original presentation of Trinket in 2008 included dynamic lighting, but there was little information recorded beyond an equipment list. At a loss, MOCA curators turned to Pryzgoda to liaise with the artist and the lighting supplier.

Pope.L initially described the lighting as a rock show. “A big part of the process for me, as a lighting designer, is trying to pull out information from the artists. What is it you see? What was your inspiration?” Pryzgoda said. Traditionally, nighttime floodlighting is monumental; and she describes this style as the foundation of her lighting design vision.

Pryzgoda chose individually focused and controlled halogen lighting, without gels or gobos. A cluster of ellipsoidals, in the traditional mode, shine up from the base of the flagpole. A line of floodlights is mounted on the floor below the flag, and ellipsoidals are mounted on truss about level with flag height, one row in front and one in back.

But the American flag fluttering in a stiff breeze is more of a daytime image, and that experience has all the dynamism of the diurnal sun and weather.

Pryzgoda pulled impressions from the documentary film KOYAANISQATSI, directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass. “I first saw it back when I was a young lighting designer using film as an inspiration. What I took from that film was sun and cloud patterns moving across the city…. This ‘rock show’ is really like light changing throughout the day: sun, clouds and shadows moving across the flag throughout the day. The source is the sun, but we’re interpreting that,” Pryzgoda said.

The dynamic lighting effects are seen throughout the huge space; they’re not random but are altered by the movement of the flag. A 30 minute seamlessly looped program blacks out at one point and slowly fades up to full intensity in the middle. This build to full intensity draws visitors into the experience and makes them participants. Kinetic Lighting supplied the lighting and programmer Eric Barth operating a grandMA lighting console; James Schipper was the project lead.

This type of team approach to lighting design excites Pryzgoda: “Pure inspiration. And I was allowed to present it and realize it. That’s exactly what I went into this business to do.”

Collaborative lighting design in architecture

Pryzgoda describes the Pope.L project like an alignment of stars. “The times that I’ve felt supported in my vision were when I’ve worked with artists,” she said, noting specifically a collaboration with artist Andy Cao on a residential project in Malibu.

“In artistic settings as well as working in the theater, I feel that the lighting designer is given a platform to state their vision, and is considered an equal part of the team. I bring the experience with the technology and the lighting process. But the collaborative vision is number one.”

Architecture may be a creative medium, but construction is not. “In architectural lighting I feel like there are too many problems: budgets and logistics and lots of players and deadlines. It’s difficult to state my vision and have people hear it. But I’m learning.”

It’s usually the creative lighting that gets cut first. “I might have vision for an office: big ideas and cool effects. The clients will love the rendering until I submit the budget. Usually the effects that inspire me – the magical stuff – is high-priced. Then the next question is, How can we value-engineer this vision?” Pryzgoda compared the challenges of the theater against permanent installations. In the theater it can be fun to create impactful effects on the cheap: a gel here, some BlackWrap there, rent a few more fixtures for a few months, even trying new effects part way though the run.

“You can’t get away with that in a building. Quite often what makes things expensive are their UL listings, customization, and long lead times needed to create the right effect,” she said. “When I work on architectural projects it’s rare that I get to realize my vision.”

Pryzgoda will continue to seek true collaboration in architectural lighting, even though engineers and budgets continue to hold sway. “Often the architect will start with a very expensive vision, and does not realize it. When I get in earlier and I have a platform to speak on, I can truly collaborate instead of just lighting a rendering of a preconceived vision…. Then we see the final product looking more like our original vision, and it doesn’t get bastardized.”

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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