LD Heather Carson has become the first lighting designer to win a Rome Prize, the prestigious program that provides fellowships for American artists and scholars to live and work at the American Academy's headquarters atop Janiculum Hill in Rome, Italy.

Carson will use her fellowship to further investigate what she calls "Light Action." As she has written, "My goal is to separate out light as subject. Drawing inspiration from contemporary physics, deconstructivist architecture, minimalism in sculpture--rather than literature--to think about structures for light, I have sought to create light as a visceral, active presencethat has its own logic and structure, co-existing with the action, often in conflict, not there simply to better 'see' what is happening onstage. Wanting to go further, I have started making my own work."

Among them is "push/Pull" (pictured), one of three installations made while at the Skowhegan Art Program in Maine. "I was trying to create two distinct blocks of space with just light," she says. It consisted of four 18' (5m) steel pipes, running the length of the room, that dissected the space diagonally. Twenty sodium vapor lamps were mounted on the pipes and pointed at the viewer as one entered the room. On the underside of the pipes were eight 8' fluorescent fixtures. On entering, one saw a plane of light, which became four lines of light when viewed from behind. The instruments ran on a cycle; the sodiums came on first, taking 3.5 minutes to reach full intensity, slowly pushing the volume of light towards the viewer, at which point the fluorescents snapped on, "adding the inverse to the shape you were absorbing, but in a cool blue light," says Carson. "Then the sodiums snapped off, leaving just the fluorescents underneath the pipes pulling the energy to the back of the space."

Other Light Action projects include "light/House," an installation in upstate New York this past summer (funded by a 1998 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist's Fellowship in Architecture); "see/Seen," a store window for l.a. Eyeworks in November; and a large-scale outdoor installation in collaboration with video artist Chris Kondek in Arhus, Denmark, in November 1999.

Not that Carson is abandoning the performing arts. Last April, she did a production of Philip Glass' Orphee, staged in an abandoned power factory for the Royal Opera of Denmark. Upcoming projects include Norma for Canadian Opera Company this month, as well as Arabella for the English company Opera North. She was a visiting instructor at NYU this past fall, and will guest teach at University of California at San Diego, filling in for Chris Parry, who is on sabbatical. She is currently on the faculty of SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture); last spring she taught a theory course titled "The Phenomenology of Light" and this fall will teach "Light Action: The Intersection of Light, Art, and Architecture." She says, "This is the new hybrid space that I exist in." On the face of it, it's a space that should offer ample room for further artistic exploration.