Pamela Hadley is a time-based light artist whose work seeks to engage people in a direct relationship with themselves and the world as a way to remember that most of what we call reality is actually a construct based on abusive Neoliberalist economics. They beileve that phenomenological experience can be an agent for social change. Hadley has participated in exhibitions and artist residencies across the US. Hadley lives in Portland, OR where they are an active member the arts community, belonging to Carnation Contemporary, WAVE Collective, and Borderline Salon. Hadley earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art and Design.

Listen to Hadley discuss her work in an interview with Zinta Aistars, Art Beat: Art in Light,” WMUK Radio, Kalamazoo, MI.


My practice uses light-in-motion to achieve moments of heightened visual phenomena. Through specificity and discord, I attempt to locate myself in time and place which then allows others to similarly locate themselves. I investigate the physical qualities of objects as they relate to the material properties of motion graphics software and digitally projected light. These relationships are inextricable from the specifics of time and place as well as the particular influence of my personhood.

When all components of the work convey meticulous intentionality, they work in concert with each other and create an experience that is entirely self-referential, freeing viewers from having to decode gestures. The viewership this produces is deeply grounded in presence: evaluating the physics of what one sees, the fact of one’s sensorial awareness (“perceiving oneself perceiving”), and the fullness of emotion that comes with such awareness. Individuals have a direct, reciprocal relationship with the work that is centered in their own humanness.

Darkness is a condition to which those of us in industrialized nations have become very unaccustomed. Recently, I’ve been constructing darkened viewing chambers for my light installations. Viewers comment that adjusting to the darkness is challenging, and not just for the eyes. Once they’ve settled in, however, it offers a psychological separation from the outside world. Darkness, as well as slowness, provide distance and insulation from capitalist pressures. Emerging from this protected, rarified space to re-enter the outside world feels slightly disorienting with a tinge of loss; you realize how good it felt to be inside.

David Raskin says, “credible art keeps the universe open, providing transitions rather than meanings.” I don’t have answers for the world’s problems. I do hope that my work might offer an opportunity to momentarily exist outside of dominant structures, thereby revealing the incredible power that we have to imagine something different.

This work isn’t trying to sell you anything. It just asks you to look and feel, and to be aware of the processes by which we look and feel. And maybe we can try to keep doing that after we’ve left the gallery.


Everyday, we have an opportunity to remember that we have minds. We have eyes and ears and senses of smell and touch. We should be ever skeptical of any ready-made, omnipresent narrative of reality. We have the physical ability to relate with the world directly. As such, we bear the responsibility of looking at that world, at ourselves, at each other, and grappling with all the difficulty, pain, and confusion that comes along with that looking. Otherwise, how will we ever conceive of any version of reality other than the present one?


The research behind my work is focused primarily on the Light and Space Movement and Minimalism, particularly the art and writings of Donald Judd and Robert Irwin. Through their work, I was introduced to the phenomenological in art. It’s about our physical sensory awareness and how cultural hierarchical systems of value inhibit that awareness. If something isn’t culturally significant, although our eye perceives it, it won’t register in our minds. We literally won’t see it. This begs the question, “How much am I not seeing?” And, not just visually. How much of my conception of reality is based on pre-conceived ideological structures? I think about how Neoliberalist economics reduce everything, including, possibly, even our most intimate relationships with others and ourselves, to transactional, productivity-obsessed bottom lines. How it conflates the power of consumer choice with the power of personal and political freedom. The phenomenological is a tool for dismantling such ideological blindness.



Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, by
Lawrence Weschler

“Is the moment of perception — that first moment, before all the abstracting, conceptualizing processes that follow — is that moment closest or furthest from the real? Everything depends on your answer to that question.”

“We’re talking about a mental construct to which the whole civilization has deeply committed itself. And what it says, simply, is that as I walk through the world, I bring into focus certain things which are meaningful, and others are by degrees less in focus, dependent upon their meaningfulness in terms of what I’m doing, to the point where there are certain things that are totally out of focus and invisible. We organize our minds in terms of this hierarchical value structure, based on certain ideas about meaning and purpose and function. And perhaps more than anything else, modernist art as a movement has arisen as a critique of that hierarchical structure. When art begins the process of taking all the pictorial out of the pictorial, taking all the symbolic meaning out of the mark and the line, what it’s really doing, essentially, is flattening that value structure.”

“[Modernism has] been a long, arcing dissent from the dominant abstract systematization, the technological qualification that has so characterized the rest of human experience during the past two centuries. Technology is wonderful, the improvements it has brought are fantastic. But the modernist trajectory over the past two hundred years has been about everything that progress has been leaving out. Quality as opposed to quantity. Quality, which can only be experienced by each unique individual, phenomenologically, across the passage of lived time.”

Notes Toward a Conditional Art,“The Art of Pure Inquiry”  
“As artists, the one true inquiry of art as a pure object is an inquiry of our potential to know the world around us and our actively being in it, with a particular emphasis on the aesthetic. This world is not just somehow given to us whole. We perceive, we shape the world, and as artists, we discover and give value to our human potential to “see” the infinite richness (beauty?) in everything, creating an extended aesthetic reality.” 


Donald Judd
“Rather than showing us what the world is like, credible art complicates the present.”


Heightened Perception:
Donald Judd, John
Chamberlain, Robert
Irwin, and Larry Bell,
“A prominent similarity becomes clear amid the perceptual experiments of Donald Judd, John Chamberlain, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, and several other artists in the 1960s and 1970s. These painters and sculptors made works that bring about new visual phenomena and that demand a specialized mode of vision, a way of seeing that trades the utility and efficiency of everyday sight for a hypersensitive focus upon what is unusual and barely discernible. The payoff for the extreme amounts of time and effort required to observe artworks in this manner constitutes common ground as well. By engaging their paintings, objects, and spaces, one can gather new knowledge.”

“Most works are best understood visually and not verbally, of course, and the translation into language of thoughts inextricably tied to material, space, and phenomena presents additional difficulties.”

“The failure of language seems to coincide with the discovery of unprecedented phenomena and of the impending limits to one’s present perceptual capacity. Probing this threshold remains a promising way both to encounter fresh sensations and to continue heightening one’s sensitivity to even subtler phenomena.”

“Sensations for which we have no good name begin to register when one takes a little time to look more closely than usual.”

“Often, with [Irwin’s] art, the phenomena one perceives ultimately defy direct description.”

“The dot and disc paintings refine acuity across the board, eliciting unaccustomed examination of sights thought already familiar, first glimpses of phenomena heretofore subliminal, and newfound sensitivity—albeit unconscious—to stimuli altogether imperceptible before.”

“Experiencing these sensations, and re-learning how things look and how they are, amounts to new knowledge about a world that can sometimes seem exceedingly familiar when we cannot take the time to scrutinize it.”

“By perceiving phenomena so unlike what we normally apprehend, we learn about the novel sensations themselves but also discover the existence of vast amounts of sensory data that go unremarked in art objects and in the world at large.”

© 2024 Pamela Hadley