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An Uplifting Experience: Maren Hassinger’s Pink Light

“I have this idea about the color pink.” Over the phone, artist Maren Hassinger described her new work commissioned for OPUS. Titled Pink Light, the site-specific installation will act as a gateway into Symphony Woods — casting you in hot-pink light as you pass under the pines. Hassinger has been working with pink since the early 80s when she was working on public art projects while living in Los Angeles. Now in her 70s, Hassinger spoke about her artistic journey to Pink Light’s development.

Pictured below: Love – Hassinger

One morning in September curator, Caroline Maxwell, picked up Hassinger in an Uber. They traveled from Harlem to a New Jersey industrial park to meet with lighting technicians. Hassinger has designed a kind of fabric light box, or canopy, that will project light toward the ground from about 12-feet in the air, supported by the column-like trunks of 50-foot pines. “It’s going to come down like the sunshine above your head,” says Hassinger. Light technician, Ayumu Poe Saegusa, is collaborating with the artist to realize her vision.

Pictured below: Pink Light – Hassinger

“They have these three mammoth warehouses. I think he said it was over 200,000 square feet. We went to one of the smaller, huge rooms Poe had set up to view the light.” Hassinger’s visit was to approve the color of the light and choose which scrim material would be the best conduit. “We all put out our hands and let the light go over our hands and forearms. And we all became pink. It wasn’t like we had separate colors. We were all pink. It was so amazing. I almost started crying, but I didn’t say a thing.” Poe was taking notes on his cell-phone and Caroline called her co-worker in Greenpoint. Hassinger noticed that the screens of their cell-phones had turned bright green. Under the pink light bath, the cell phone light became “a specific green that was the opposite of pink on a color chart.”

The green cell-phone color phenomenon reminded Hassinger of a much earlier work. “I started using pink when I lived in L.A. in the late seventies and early eighties. I did this piece with a group from CalArts. I painted some paths in an abandoned neighborhood. The neighborhood had been demolished for a freeway and then they never got around to making that freeway. The place was overrun by packs of wild dogs. It was a really sad, dilapidated former neighborhood, and I painted some pink paths to cheer it up. One led to a house; many were just the kind of pathways that you’d see between major streets. When I painted these pathways I noticed the grass next to them. The grass was really green and the pink was really pink and I thought, Oh my God, this is a color project. This is color theory at work right here. Amazing.”

Pictured below: Maren Hassinger

That’s when pink became Hassinger’s signature color. The work it does, or how the color functions, can be symbolic or theory driven. In an early performance, Hassinger gathered existing trash from three parks depositing it in the proper trash receptacles. Then, reaching into her pink bag she distributed pink objects throughout the park while dressed in pink. Pink Trash was recently restaged as part of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85.  More recent pink works are now on view in her solo exhibition The Spirit of Things at the Baltimore Museum of Art. “My Love pieces are inflated with breath and ambient shared air. These inflated pink bags have love notes inside.”

Working intuitively has led Hassinger to moments of insight and discovery. “After all of those years of doing art and then coming to this idea of equality, I’m discovering that the art I’ve been doing all along has been about that equality. I’m thinking I’m making this canopy of pink light because I want this warm glow to fall on people and support them but I found that it is also about equality. Poe was the one who said, ‘oh, look, brown, black and white, all these are pink.’  I mean that’s like a miracle.” Hassinger describes it as a play on enlightenment. “Literally you are lit and then you are enlightened.”