Like art, light inspires. From sunsets to starlight, jellyfishes to fireflies, humans often perceive light as poetic and inspiring. But light does much more than just stir imagination; how we perceive light can affect everything from our emotions to our alertness and biological timing. Art shares a similarly profound power. Neuroscientists have determined that appreciating nature-inspired art, for example, elevates our wellbeing. Both light and art are potent tools to affect peoples’ psychosomatic states. We can manipulate light to evoke sensations that engage body, mind, imagination and emotion.

As an artist, my goal is to elicit transformative sensory, cognitive and visceral experiences. To do so, I use light as a vehicle of biophilia (nature-inspired design). My approach is based on the study of the innate human connection to nature. According to the biophilia hypothesis that was introduced by American biologist Edward O. Wilson, human beings have an innate instinct to connect emotionally with nature, particularly the aspects of nature that recall what evolutionary psychologists have termed the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness, the natural conditions that the human species evolved to inhabit. As such, living organisms hold a biological need for connection with nature including natural landscapes, natural light and natural change of light.

In my art, I aim to engage people’s primordial connection to nature and evoke profound sensations from natural beauty. I work with new technologies to create immersive spaces that elicit the sublimity of nature. As an example, In 2006 I created an interactive installation, “outSIDEin,” for the New York City Subway’s utterly desolate pedestrian tunnel at 191st Street station of the number 1 train, also known as the tunnel of doom. I created a false ceiling that appeared to be cracked, and a combination of artificial light and fog simulated a striking natural effect of light emanating from the sky. Lights were programmed to imitate the color and intensity of the daylight outside of the tunnel. When the weather outside was sunny, the light projected inside through the cracks was bright and yellow. When the weather outside was foggy, the light shining over the passers-by was soft and blue.

In my art, I aim to engage people's primordial connection to nature and evoke profound sensations from natural beauty.

My practice is focused on discovering innovative methodologies in modulating lighting based on personal needs, and the application of these methodologies to stimulate people’s experiences. The evolution of my practice led me to research that combines lighting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) for artistic purpose. Together with AI researcher I have been creating light art apparatus that can see, hear, understand and respond to human beings. Our patented AI system includes a light exposure tracking device that records personal exposure to daylight and uses that data in combination with information about time of day, season, current weather and weather forecast to change the personal lighting; thus compensating for the lack of exposure to natural light.

This invention is used to drive my latest artworks. As an example, “7.4 Billion Skies” is an audiovisual art installation that uses interactive lighting and projection technologies to transform the experience of an ordinary indoor space into an immersive experience of the ever-changing sky. The piece brings the outside sensation of the sky into the enclosed space. While the piece can accommodate groups, it also creates personalized experiences for each visitor. Once a visitor volunteers information about their exposure to daylight that is sensed via light exposure tracker, the information is used to calculate the personal need for daylight exposure. In turn, the lighting and projection content around each visitor is customized to compensate for their lack of exposure to daylight and to elevate their emotional state. As a result, each visitor is immersed in a unique skyspace shaped by an artistic interpretation of how to enhance the visceral experience of that specific person.

7.4 Billion Skies is an audiovisual art installation that uses interactive lighting and projection technologies to transform the experience of an ordinary indoor space into an immersive experience of the ever-changing sky.
7.4 Billion Skies is an audiovisual art installation that uses interactive lighting and projection technologies to transform the experience of an ordinary indoor space into an immersive experience of the ever-changing sky.

Maya Petric - These are light art box sets (85x47 in) made to be installed in personal space. Similar ideas are embodied in the object work titled “Skies”. These are light art box sets (85x47 in) made to be installed in personal spaces. Each set is made of seven lightboxes that are positioned above each other. Individually, each box is filled with layers of images and lighting that provide a view of part of the sky. Together, seven lightboxes and the light space between them form a large scale view of the open sky that is constantly in motion. The lighting is algorithmically programmed to constantly change. Just as the same state of the sky is never repeated, “Skies” are constantly changing too. The piece adjusts in real time the brightness, color, and color temperature of the lighting to evoke a natural change of daylight but also according to the person’s biological needs calculated based on data collected from a wearable light exposure tracking device and other environmental factors.

My curiosity for science led me to develop and use cutting-edge lighting technologies as an artistic tool. My approach is scientific and technical but always rooted in art. Together, these disciplines can touch on essential strands of the human experience: feelings, perceptions, moods and thoughts. If used properly, we can use light, art, and biophilia to elevate human wellbeing, a theory backed by scientific research.

My curiosity for science led me to develop and use cutting-edge lighting technologies as an artistic tool.
Maja Petrić

About Maja Petrić

Maja Petrić www.majapetric.com works with cutting-edge technology to create innovative spatial experiences that evoke the sublimity of nature. She grew up in Croatia during the violent fragmentation of Yugoslavia. It is then that she became preoccupied with using art to elevate a sense of the surroundings. She received a PhD from the University of Washington and a master’s from New York University. Petrić discovered that lighting is one of the most potent tools to shape people’s experience, cognitively and emotionally. Since the year 2000, she has been studying, researching, practicing and teaching the complementary potential of light and art to create transformative human experiences. She is currently teaching at the first-ever master’s degree program dedicated to the creative use of light, offered by European Institute of Design.

Petrić’s light art has been exhibited worldwide at venues including the Henry Art Gallery, Medialab Prado, Microsoft Gallery and Matadero Madrid. Her works have been commissioned by Amazon, Microsoft, Kikekeller Gallery, and included in private collections. Petrić has been nominated for numerous international awards, and has received the Microsoft Research Art Residency Award, Richard Kelly Light Art Award, Thunen Light Art Award, and Croatian National Award for Science and Technological Development, among others.

She is currently writing a book on the history of light as an artistic tool and developing a large-scale immersive installation, We Are All Made of Light, opening in Seattle’s MadArt Studio in 2018.

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