While visiting a new immersive experience in Thomas Jefferson UniversityI found myself mesmerized many times by the light and movement of the artwork I was looking at.
While some of the pieces at Waiting Room – Immersive Art for Wellbeing, were simply framed on the wall, others occupied small rooms, using light and shadows to draw the viewer in. The exhibition, centered around art that uses light, shadows and movement to create immersive art experiences, opened on Gallery HOT BED on September 17.
The experience is curated by Godley Lake, an artist and professor of industrial design at Jefferson. Godley worked on research in The Jefferson Center for Immersive Arts for Health to see if immersive art, such as the pieces in the waiting room exhibit, can be calming or have a positive impact on mental health.
Godley and the other artists featured in the exhibit have come up with works that are immersive for the viewer, but small enough to be used in real waiting rooms to help calm patients.
“Part of it is based on distraction therapy, where if you give someone headphones, it distracts them enough that their stress level is reduced, they don’t need as much pain medication, you can put through uncomfortable procedures simply because they are distracting,” she said. “So the hypothesis is, can we create that kind of immersive environment without headphones.”
Six artists participate in the exhibition, Aidan Fowler, Alison Denny, Jessica Judith Beckwith, Philip Hart, Yael Erel and Godley. It also includes four works from the winners of the 2022 Immersive Arts for Health Student Design Competition, where the Jefferson Center of Immersive Arts for Health invited designers from around the world to present works. Out of about 35 entries from 11 different countries, the top four winning entries were actually built and displayed in the exhibition.
Most of the pieces use lights and/or projectors to create certain effects. For example, one of Godley’s pieces is illuminated by a projector playing video on each physical tile, creating movement on the piece. Godley uses digital projection mapping so the projection only hits the intended tiles, she said.
A piece of Erel was 3D printed and had light shining through it. There is a piece of stainless steel with a textured surface on a rotating table and the light reflects off this rotating piece and projects the patterns onto the wall.
Fowler created a piece that uses a convex mirror to reflect flexible LED arrays. The finished product made me feel like I was traveling through space.
Godley said he thinks incorporating technology into art helps make it interactive and allows people to engage with it.
“It’s really hard if you have something that’s dynamic not to go to it. It’s really hard if you have something that lights up not to be drawn to it, isn’t it?” she said. “And yes, we can do these huge fascinating Van Gogh things, right? But I think there’s something about having something that’s more intimate, right, and that can actually be used in spaces where it can have an impact.”
Godley said she did an art show 10 years ago where she used optical lights woven into images of birds, and people were drawn to it. She said they would sit on the floor and look at the pieces for long periods of time. And after doing some research, she discovered that the lights she was using were the same wavelength as the lights used in light therapy. She contacted Thomas Jefferson about their light research program and got to work.
“This area of dynamic work is really new and I know we get lost in these things, everyone does, right?” she said. “And it’s like, if we can use this the same way they use distraction therapy with headphones without using headphones.”
In an effort to continue this research and collect data, Godley said there is a QR code next to each of the main pieces that is linked to a survey to gather information from visitors about their experience. She said they also want to start putting some of this art in actual waiting rooms to see what impact it has. Rooms are places where people are stuck, she said, which presents an interesting position.
“It’s specifically for spaces where people are confined, and so we’re not looking at patient rooms yet because we need a whole other level of lighting as far as circadian lighting,” she said. “But I think for this show, if we can start the dialogue so we can get people involved and start collecting data. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
The exhibition is open until November 19 at the Hot Bed Gallery.
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that connects young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute of Journalism. -30-