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Zarouhie Abdalian: AIR

Zarouhie Abdalian


During her residency, Abdalian developed a suite of prose scores entitled Functions that explore the social dimensions of the Exploratorium as a public environment.

We tend to associate scores with musical notes and the performance of music. Yet, for decades, a wide range of artists—including Yoko Ono, Sol LeWitt, Trisha Brown, and John Cage—have created text-based scores for performances of all kinds. Depending on the score and its intentions, these instructions may be communicated in written, spoken, or pictographic language.

Abdalian’s scores, take the form of a set of cards with instructions that invite playful interaction among three or more participants. The scores were performed by Exploratorium visitors over the course of several months, and are expressly designed for anyone to try—no special knowledge or abilities are needed to join in the performance. Abdalian’s Functions encourages us to probe what happens when an individual joins with others to become part of a public. How do individuals negotiate group power dynamics?

In addition, Abdalian, in collaboration with Joseph Rosenzweig, worked with Exploratorium staff to organize a concert, Situational Music, exploring sound works that informed the development of Functions. A group of performers presented a selection of seven historical prose scores—including works by Pauline Oliveros and Christian Wolff.  

Born in New Orleans in 1982, Zarouhie Abdalian received a BA from Tulane University in 2003 and an MFA from California College of the Arts in 2010. Abdalian often makes site-specific installations and sculptures that address the material and social conditions under which they become art. 

She has had solo exhibitions at Dillard University Art Gallery in New Orleans, in 2007, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2013 and at Altman Siegel, San Francisco. in 2014. In 2008 she created a permanent light installation for the Philadelphia Cathedral.

Her work has been included in international and national exhibitions, including Prospect.3, New Orleans, LA, 2014; Nothing Beside Remains, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, Australia, 2014;  Rendez-vous 12, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 2014; Material Information, Kunstindustrie Museum, Bergen, Norway, 2012; Moscow International Biennial for Young Art, 2012; and Shanghai Biennale: Reactivation, 2012; and the 8th Berlin Biennale, Berlin, 2011. Other venues in which her work has appeared include Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions; ProArts Gallery, Oakland; Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne, France; The Lab, San Francisco; MacArthur B Arthur, Oakland; New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; and Krowswork, Oakland.

Abdalian is a recipient of the inaugural 2015 A+P+I Artist Residency at Mills College as well as the SFMOMA SECA Art Award in 2013. She has also participated in the independent curatorial projects SC13, San Francisco, 2010, and Mission Afterviews, San Francisco, 2012.