Meet The Australian Artist Creating Light Sculptures That Blur The Line Between Art & Science

Picture a scientist, what pops into your head? Lab coats? Beakers? Bunsen burners? Now picture an artist — what do you see? An easel? A sculpture? A guitar? 

Art and science are often seen as opposites, but the relationship between the two is more entwined than it may appear at first glance, and Australian illumination artist and interaction designer Laura Jade is a living testament to that. 

Her work fuses the multidisciplinary fields of art, biology, illumination design, neuroscience and BCI (brain-computer interface) technology to explore new ways of perceiving and interacting with our inner biological processes. In short, it’s all very cool.

“Light is very special,” says Laura. “It’s a mysterious particle — scientists don’t even know what it really is. They call it a ‘photon’ as a way to represent this little package of energy that is travelling at the speed of light … it’s intangible. It’s the only constant in the universe”.

One of the biggest challenges Laura faces with her work is capturing it in photo form. Her sculptures are very delicate, with light emanating from inside them, causing issues with most cameras. 

To try to alleviate this problem, Samsung and Optus teamed up to challenge Laura to set up an exhibition and capture it all, putting the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s Night Mode to the test.

Watch the video below to see how Samsung Galaxy’s most advanced Pro-grade camera yet handles the task.

We caught up with Laura after the challenge to explore the relationship between art and science, what inspires her, and find out just how she brings her creations to life.

PTV: Hey Laura, have you always been creative, and have you always been fascinated by light? Basically, where did it all begin?

Laura: I’ve always been interested in the invisible, imperceivable biological processes that happen in nature and in our own bodies. I love the immateriality of light. It pervades the world yet it is untouchable. As an artist with a background in biology, I have an equal passion for both art and science because each discipline brings me closer to understanding the mysterious properties of nature. 

Science and art are often considered very different disciplines, but I’m not so sure that’s the case, and you’re a living testament to that. How do you feel about the relationship between science and art? 

Both art and science require huge amounts of creativity. A lot of breakthrough ideas in both art and science are not “eureka moments” that come out of nowhere, they are usually based on being exposed to many small and varied influences that stimulate new ideas to fall into place. 

While science brings us closer to understanding the mechanics of nature, art nourishes our psychological needs. Artists can take knowledge created inside scientific laboratories and find its cultural significance, its meaning. And that’s important to our sense of direction, collectively, it’s important to our sense of humanity. Art can also flow back into science in the sense that the future is far from being knowable, but it is very easily inventable. Things like science fiction have inspired science to move in certain directions, because the ideas have already been imagined, they seem ascertainable. 

I have spent a great deal of the last 15 years gaining skills and knowledge in other fields, such as science, design and technology, primarily to fuel my art practice and to make me a more equipped artist. This is the value of art for me, it’s a way to build bridges between many different silos of knowledge.

I know this might be like asking you to pick a favourite child, but what is your favourite piece of art you’ve ever created? 

Brainlight is an artwork that connects my interests in art, biology and light. The artwork transfers neuro-feedback therapy — a technique used to teach self-regulation of brain activity — from a clinical setting to an artistic one by creating a sculpture that aesthetically embodies a live visualisation of brain activity using a wireless EEG headset, allowing a participant to have an intimate and unique interaction with their inner selves — to “meet their own mind” — externally. 

It always amazes me the diverse range of reactions Brainlight garners in different contexts. Although the work has been seen in over 10 countries, in settings as varied as galleries, science conferences, schools, prisons, concerts and medical labs, I generally find that the scientific community are more interested in the artistic elements and the artistic communities are more interested in the science and technological.

That’s so interesting. How do you go about creating your art — do you keep a set schedule, or do you create when inspiration strikes? Do you have a favourite time of day for working? Basically, what’s your process?

One of the lifestyle benefits of being an artist is having no schedule, or at least having a very dynamic and diverse day to day life. When I’m working on new ideas, I find that inspiration can strike when you least expect it, daytime or night. I have to constantly hone my senses to be tuned in so I can grab those ideas when they come. 

Ideas really come from anywhere. I read science and technology articles, I am very interested in following new and emerging technologies and I’m also fascinated by new discoveries in biology. I also look at the past quite a lot too, in terms of architecture, museums and galleries. I’m obsessed with natural history museums. Many of my works have been influenced by the Renaissance, when art and science were flourishing.

When creating a piece, where do you start? Do you sketch them or plan them out in any way, or do you go with the flow and start creating and then see what comes out of that?

My approach depends on the project I’m working on. I could be designing lighting for a theatre or dance show, or I could be coding a handmade 3D sculpture to illuminate in sync with your heartbeat. Sometimes it’s a very linear and structured process, from drawings, to models, to digital files, that inform large-scale installations.  

Other times I have to make sure I schedule time for “play” where there is no pressure to achieve an outcome, and this allows for new and unexpected ideas to emerge that could inform the direction of a new artwork. It’s a constant juggling act to keep those two processes in balance.