“En’Light’en: an exploration of light and sensation” by Laura Johnston
Dr Laura Johnston
Artist and researcher
Lecture from the 7th VELUX Daylight Symposium “Healthy & climate-friendly architecture– from knowledge to practice” that took place in Berlin on 3-4 May 2017. For more information visit http://thedaylightsite.com
Light changes constantly - from sunrise to sunset, the intensity and colour of natural light alters continually. In the natural environment light is experienced in numerous ways: filtered through shifting clouds; creating dappled patterns as it passes through branches and leaves; reflected from water projecting amazing highlights onto the surroundings that continually shift and change. Experiencing such rich and subtle nuances we are both delighted and surprised. The mood of a place can change dramatically with the sudden emergence of the sun from behind a cloud. Over the past 20 years I have completed numerous public art projects across the UK, installing glass and steel sculptures that respond to light changing our experience of the spaces they inhabit.
Light and its power to transform space is at the heart of my work, specialising in the application of materials that reflect and transmit light in various ways and change during the course of a day. Building users often refer to the positive impact this sense of change brings to such spaces. In 2016, I embarked on a project sponsored by Arts Council England, seeking to explore the positive therapeutic impact of natural lighting phenomena on human experience and the artistic interpretation, enhancement and simulation of such phenomena within architecture. We spend much of our time in constructed spaces and exposure to natural light can be limited. Interior lighting is often designed at a constant level, carefully controlled, with the aim of achieving the optimum illumination for task performance and productivity.
Such environments remove us from the changeability of the natural world. Glazing is designed with efficiency rather than sensuality in mind! When reviewing stained glass of the 12th and 13th Centuries, attention is more often drawn to the imagery - referred to as the ‘bible for the illiterate’ – than the careful and skilful orchestration of light that these membranes achieve. By treating glass in various ways, the glazing combines levels of transparency, translucency and colour, with the conscious intention of transforming the space and achieving spiritual uplift. Since this time, advances in building and glazing technologies have achieved the possibility of greater illumination in architecture but perhaps we have lost some of the sensations such mastery can muster. The ‘En’Light’en’ project unites artists, academics and scientists in the exploration of these ideas. In scale models and real spaces, we examine how we can bring a sense of the natural world into our buildings through subtle manipulation of light and evaluate the extent to which this can change how we feel.
By ‘texturing’ light and animating space, building occupiers may feel transported to the shelter of a forest canopy or experience the soothing rhythms of flowing water. With the Durham University, we are using various qualitative and quantitative methods to monitor how people respond to such settings both physiologically and psychologically, gaining insight into what happens to us in such spaces and which of these experiences may positively influence health and wellbeing. Dr Laura Johnston is an artist and researcher based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. She established her studio in 1996 and since then she has completed numerous public art projects across the UK. In 1997 Laura completed the UK’s first practice-led PhD, exploring the artistic application of coated glass in architecture.
She worked with Pilkington UK, experimenting with thin film coatings that alter the refractive and reflective properties of glass. In 1998 she installed the UK’s first dichroic glass sculpture in the National Glass Centre, Sunderland and has gone on to complete numerous sculptural installations in public spaces which combine glass and other light responsive materials. Driven by the belief that our physical environment has a direct impact on how we feel, research continues to inform her studio’s approach to working with glass, light and space. Currently Artist in Residence at Durham University and working with Biomedical Scientists, she has embarked on a detailed study with light and wellbeing as its focus. The project is exploring the beneficial effects of colour and natural lighting phenomena, examining ways in which this can be interpreted within architecture to bring texture and delight to the buildings we inhabit.