Zeena Parkins

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014

New York, NY

Zeena Parkins is a pioneer of contemporary harp practice and performance. She has built one-of-a-kind electric harps and has extended the language of the acoustic harp with unusual playing techniques, preparations, and layers of electronic processing. She has been commissioned by Ne(x)tworks, Roulette Intermedium, William Winant, the Whitney Museum, and the Tate Modern; and has released scores of recordings, including the recent, Trouble in Paradise (Tzadik, 2013) with Ikue Mori. Her collaborations are extensive and cross disciplinary, with choreographers Jennifer Monson, DD Dorvillier, Neil Greenberg, and Jennifer Lacey; filmmakers Cynthia Madansky and Daria Martin; as well as diverse musicians Björk, Fred Frith, Yoko Ono, Butch Morris, Christian Marclay, and Maja Ratkje. Her awards include grants from NPN Creation Fund (2012), MAP Fund (2011, 2005, 2004), the French-American Jazz Exchange (2010), and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (1997). Currently, Parkins is a distinguished visiting professor at Mills College (CA) graduate music department.

  • Photo Credit: Heike Liss
  • Spellbeamed (2011-2012)
  • Spellbeamed (2011-2012)
  • Zeena Parkins performs at MOCAD (2011)
  • Eclispe Quartet performing Zeena Parkins’s ‘Visible/Invisible, Movement 3’ (2005)

What are your key goals for the award period? What challenges, desires, drives or needs are inspiring these goals?

Recently, I am drawn to the de-stabilized environments proposed by open structures juxtaposed with fully notated materials and the precarious ways in which one can transverse into the other. I have begun to explore the palpable tension, as lines drawn in the sand, vibrating between various kinds of information and how this information is translated. The inscription, transmission, and reception of musicalities form a system/instrument of communication, not unlike the telegraph. For me, it is a composition. I am teasing these concerns as I am immersed in an expression of this unsteadiness and the energy that it produces.

I want to understand how we ‘know’—before we know or even before we know that we know: where thoughts are encoded in what often appears to be telepathic connections. In collecting, developing, and parsing out the materials of a new work, a space is created for focused listening that feeds back into all aspects of my artistic practice on multiple levels.