Bending Light by Lauren Zoll

Lauren Zoll is an artist, a lifelong gardener, and someone who is energized by the sun. In this feature, she retraces the development of her practice from her decision to make solar panel paintings to her current public art work, Bending Light, on view at Shelton Heights Park in Indianapolis for ten years.


The common thread across all my work is light. Some of my work reflects light, others captures it turning it into electricity, mimicking the process of photosynthesis. My newest public art work, Bending Light, refracts light turning it into an interactive oculus.

I grew up cooking Fijones (beans) with my Sephardic grandmother. Food was our connection to our Ladino language. I started making black bean ink after cooking black beans and accidentally spilling some onto white paper. Upon further research, I learned that there’s a long artistic and scientific lineage for fruit-based inks and that these dyes have photochemical attributes. Biology, science and horticulture began to merge, and I found myself fascinated by these realms after becoming a mother myself.

Being an artist, a lifelong gardener, and someone who is energized by the sun, I set out to make solar panel paintings made from plant material. These paintings were wired to display the amount of Volts the paintings produce from the gallery lights, just like a solar panel. The colorful paintings possess a similar essence of what I see as a natural phenomenon – the act of photosynthesis. I began to see fruit waste, not only as my paint, but as technology, bundles of potential energy which could be harnessed.

Bending Light started out as a community engagement project that included collecting Mulberries to create photo-reactive sculptures in my city of Indianapolis. That quickly changed as the pandemia grew in the spring of 2020. I needed readily available materials that I previously experimented with – Acrylic rods became my obvious material. Plexiglass barriers were becoming part of people’s everyday spatial lives and I wanted to engage this suddenly contemporary material in a way that was meaningful. I could also “study” the effects of the transparent material while simultaneously engaging my four year old referring to the them as “Art Sticks.”

While researching, I came across a sketch by modernist architect Alvar Alto which helped synthesize my Ideas for both structural design and engagement with the community. The sketch illustrated sunlight using sunburst imagery reaching a person who was lying ill in bed and was the architect’s response to a tuberculosis outbreak. The outbreak radically influenced architecture to embrace the outdoors and the healing power of sunlight.

I also created Reading Stations for the installation, made of old wooden utility poles turned into interactive sculptures where visitors can see colors, patterns, and words change when reading through the translucent material. I conceptualized the Bending Light publication in a way that a visitor can use it to experiment with light refraction and optical effects when viewing the publication through the reading station, focusing on making the relation between Art and Science accessible to all ages.

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