Leighton Pierce, M.F.A.

Emeritus Professor

Leighton Pierce uses video and sound to create experiences in transformative time. He creates multi-channel site-specific installations as well as single channel works that have been exhibited in major art museums and film festivals throughout the world including the 2016-17 Kochi Muziris Biennale, The Whitney Bienniale, and many festivals including Sundance, San Francisco, New York, Tribeca, Ann Arbor, and Rotterdam.

In his hands, the camera works to translate an active and immediate emotional state into externalized images drawn from the seemingly mundane world around him. It is from these emotionally charged gestures that Pierce composes a rhythmically affecting structure with sound and image. His process begins with a recognition of the emotional and rhythmic potential of an image.  It ends with the rendering and juxtaposition of these images against the filter of a carefully constructed soundtrack.  Retrospectives of his works have been presented at venues such as, The New Zealand Film Festival, Lincoln Center, The Cinémathèque française, Festival Nemo, and Pompidou Center in Paris, and at The Lisbon Biennale.  Pierce has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Creative Capital.

Pierce studied ceramics and music composition, especially jazz and electronic music, before making films. It is a continuation of this early interest in music and the related process of constructing meaningful experiences in time that continue to guide his work. Pierce executes all aspects of his works himself including the conception, cinematography, editing, and of course, the sound design and composition.

In addition to his activity as a sound and video artist, Pierce has had a very active career as an educator. He taught at the University of Iowa from 1985 where he was also head of the Program in Film and Video Production from 2001-2011.  His range of classes covered all aspects of film and video making with a special emphasis on the conceptual and practical development of sound and image relationships in film, video, and installation.  In 2011, Pierce moved to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he was Chair of the Department of FilmVideo for one year until he took up he position of Acting Dean of the School of Art and Design for two years. In 2014, Pierce was appointed Dean of the School of Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts.

Courses Taught
  • Modes of Film and Video Production
  • Film and Video Production Selected Topics
Selected Publications
  • Number One, 2007, 10:05, video
    With water imagery as the foundation, Number One presents an experience of elasticity between varying states of mind. The contrasts in this multi-image poetic piece are developed in an interwoven relation to each other to both document and invoke the magnetized and elastic push/pull that is the flow of our conscious attention.
    Screenings: Dallas, AnitMatter (Vancouver), Montreal, EXiS (Seoul), Hong Kong, VAD (Spain) etc.
  • My Person in the Water, 2006, 5:30, video
    A woman moving in the water and the gaze of a man, both seen from beneath the water, elaborated by the vectorizing force of sound, lead the viewer toward an effervescence of feeling – a desire for merge among the knowledge of separateness.
    Screenings: Hong Kong, ExiS, New York, Black Maria, Ann Arbor, Athens, etc.
  • Warm Occlusion, 2005-2006, 13 channel video installation
    Warm Occlusion is a multi-channel video and sound composition designed for the 5500 sq. ft. North Gallery of the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The architectural features of the gallery - six 6’x 3’x 11’ columns arrayed in two rows - serve as sites for twelve 9ft. tall projected video loops. Images wrap all four sides of each column creating ‘video monoliths. The experience is one of diffuse association among the images and the columns as the viewer shifts vantage points while moving through the gallery, never able to see all images at once. A broad sound field envelops and redirects the viewer. The loops are each 13 minutes long. The viewing experience is typically longer due to the polyvalent nature of this installation.
  • Work in Progress: Leaving the Station, a multichannel video project.
Research areas
  • Production of Experimental & Nonfiction Digital Video and Film
  • Video/Sound Installation
  • Sound Design for Film and Video
  • Soundscape Composition