Art, technology and mental health all connect at this new immersive exhibit

[Immersive experiences don’t necessarily evoke presence experiences, but the concepts are clearly related. If you’ll be in Philadelphia this fall you might want to check out “WAITING ROOM – Immersive Art for Wellbeing,” an exhibit from The Jefferson Center of Immersive Arts for Health. The story below from (where the original includes three more images) provides a first-person report on the exhibit as well as interview segments with curator Lyn Godley. Much more information, including a virtual view of the works, is available on the HOT BED gallery’s website. Here’s an extended excerpt:

“Merging Art, Technology, and Science

Research shows that art can have a positive impact on human health, specifically in healthcare environments. Most existing research focuses on static art (paintings, prints, or sculpture) or, more recently, Distraction Therapy with the use of virtual reality which is showing promising benefits in pain management and lowered anxiety. One of the main features of this method is the creation of an immersive experience.

We, at JCIAH, believe similar outcomes, could be achieved with dynamic or interactive art that ‘immerse’ the patient in such a way as to improve the overall healthcare experience, resulting in an improved physiological and psychological impact. By making the artwork dynamic, it becomes more immersive, by removing the need for a VR headset, the potential impact could affect more visitors across multiple platforms. Also, unlike VR Distraction Therapy, the patient could, through adaptations of interactive design, choose their level of engagement, from simple observation, to co-creation, to full immersion, thus adding a level of agency to the experience, allowing the visitor to have a sense of control over certain aspects of their environment, which is often a source of anxiety during patient visits.

Art’s Impact on Health

Artists and Interactive Designers have been using light as a medium to create dynamic sensory experiences since the 1960’s. Solid State Lighting, coding, and digital projection mapping has amplified the possibilities. These types of immersive experiences demand a level of commitment from the viewer, more than just ‘passing by,’ whereby the viewer allows their senses to be engaged, thus altering their perception of their environment. It takes an effort to be transformed, you have to give the time to really feel the art, you have to become immersed.

In healthcare environments where patients are often confined in a setting for extended periods of time, this type of immersive experience is not only potentially beneficial as a stress reducing intervention, but through interactive technology may offer the patient a level of agency over their environment.

The arts and aesthetic experiences impact human biology and behavior in ways that differ markedly from any other health intervention. Scientific studies demonstrate that many art modalities act on complex biological systems and mechanisms to generate both physiological and psychological effects. Science and technology make possible the ability to understand and measure the biological effects of the arts and aesthetic experiences on individuals and populations.

As part of ongoing research by JCIAH, viewers will be able to take part in a survey to collect feedback on their individual experiences of the installations.  An open discussion on the research behind the exhibition, and how the individual artists are creating immersive experiences to engage, and calm the viewer is scheduled to take place [October 15, 2022] during DesignPhiladelphia at HOT•BED Gallery.  We hope this exhibit opens up dialogue and possibilities about the role immersive art might have in creating environments that help us heal, especially in times like these.”


[Image: “Infinite Reflections,” a piece by Aidan Fowler]

Art, technology and mental health all connect at this new immersive exhibit

Waiting Room – Immersive Art for Wellbeing uses light, shadows and movement to create immersive art. This exhibit is part of ongoing research about the effect immersive art can have on mental health.

By Sarah Huffman
September 26, 2022

While visiting a new immersive experience at HOT BED Gallery, I found myself mesmerized many times by the light and movement of the art piece I was looking at.

While some of the pieces at Waiting Room – Immersive Art for Wellbeing, were simply framed on the wall, others took up small rooms, using light and shadows to draw in the observer. The exhibit, centered around art that uses light, shadows and movement to create immersive art experiences, opened on Sept. 17.

The experience was curated by Lyn Godley, an artist and a professor of industrial design at Jefferson. Godley is working on research at The Jefferson Center of Immersive Arts for Health at Thomas Jefferson University, to see if immersive art, like 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, came up with pieces that are immersive to the observer, but small enough that they could be used in actual waiting rooms to help calm patients.

“Some of it is based off of distraction therapy, where if you give someone a headset, it kind of distracts them enough so that their stress level is reduced, they don’t need as much pain medication, you can get them through uncomfortable procedures simply because they’re being distracted,” she said. “And so the hypothesis is that can we create that kind of immersive environment without a headset.”

The exhibit features six artists, Aidan Fowler, Alyson Denny, Jessica Judith Beckwith, Philip Hart, Yael Erel and Godley. It also features four pieces from the winners of the 2022 Immersive Arts for Health Student Design Competition, where the Jefferson Center of Immersive Arts for Health invited designers around the world to submit pieces. Out of about 35 entries from 11 different countries, the top four winning entries were actually built and displayed in the exhibit.

Most of the pieces use lights and/or projectors to create certain effects. For example, one of Godley’s pieces is lit by a projector playing a video on each physical tile, creating movement on the piece. Godley used digital projection mapping so the projection only hit the intended tiles, she said.

A piece by Erel was 3D printed and has a light shining through it. There is a piece of stainless steel with a textured surface on a turntable, and light reflects off that turning piece and projects the patterns onto the wall.

Fowler created a piece that uses a convex mirror to reflect flexible LED arrays. The final product made me feel like I was traveling through space.

Godley said she thinks incorporating technology into art helps make it interactive and allows people to engage with it.

“It’s really hard if you’ve got something that’s dynamic, not to go to it. It’s really hard if you’ve got something that lights up, not to be drawn to it, right?” she said. “And yes, we can do these huge immersive Van Gogh things right? But I think that there’s something to having something that is more intimate, right, and that can actually be used in spaces where it might have an impact.”

Godley said 10 years ago she did an art show where she used fiber optic lights woven in 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 found out that the lights she used were the same wavelength as lights used in light therapy. She reached out to Thomas Jefferson about their light research program and got to work.

“This field of dynamic work is really new and I know that we get lost in this stuff, everybody does right?” she said. “And it’s like, if we can use this in the same way that they use distraction therapy with a headset without using a headset.”

In an effort to continue this research and collect data, Godley said next to each of the major pieces, there is a QR code which is linked to a survey to collect input 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. The rooms are places people are stuck, she said, which presents and interesting position.

“It’s specifically for spaces where people are confined and so we’re not looking at patient rooms yet because that we need a whole other level of lighting stuff as far as circadian lighting,” she said. “But I think that for this show, if we can start the dialogue so that we can get people in and we can start collecting data. That’s the biggest thing for us.”

The exhibit is open through Nov. 19 at Hot Bed Gallery.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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