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Durham University

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing


Enlighten (funded by Leverhulme Trust in 2017) - an update

(8 January 2018)

As Artist in Residence, Dr Laura Johnston worked from a dedicated studio space provided by the Durham University Wolfson Institute of Health and Wellbeing (WRIHW) closely with many academic disciplines, within the University, as well as students, exploring ideas around the theme of light and health and wellbeing, from many perspectives. During the residency, the university has provided three different venues for Laura to install light-related works and test their impact by engaging with students and staff who use the spaces. During the period, we also established close links with health professionals and gained access to four local hospital and hospice spaces. Works developed in the studio have been installed in these university and health care environments and we have been able to assess their impact and how spaces are changed by such interventions. The university provided means to quantitatively measure the lighting intensity and wavelength profiles in the different settings at different times of the day and night using a small state-of-the art recording device, and recorded individual physiological, physical and behavioural responses. This is an ongoing project which has provided new ideas for future exciting new projects in the different settings. The audience repeatedly referred to the ‘beauty’ of the observed lighting phenomena and this was a notable response to installations in each of the selected venues. Rhythmic light patterns and movement were reported to have a relaxing effect and this was particularly recorded in response to the Pain Clinic installation. We were interested in the element of control offered by Pain unit installation (positively highlighted by patients and staff) and this led to new discussions with computer scientists in Durham and Northumbria universities to develop such personal control devices. The changeability of the installations proved to be of great interest and this received positive responses with people referring to a sense of ‘uplift’ evoked by this. The initial concerns that movement of light may be distracting or annoying proved unfounded. Creating a ‘focal point’ within a space appeared valuable. People referred to a ‘mystery’ and an ‘other-worldliness’ that such reflections created. Installations within the University and Marie Curie Hospice were found to regularly evoke comments of this kind. Positive responses importantly by both staff and patients to the night-time lights in pilot studies in the Hospice provided new evidence for the negative effects of the black window. This requires further ongoing confirmatory studies. Generally, the works were seen to stimulate interest, resulting in conversations around the theme of light between people using the spaces, and personal thoughts and preferences around the theme were readily shared. The power of such installations to offer ‘a welcome distraction’ from worries was referred to in responses from patients and the value of this was noted. The project was presented and well received on multiple occasions to the general public (multiple exhibitions), undergraduate and postgraduate students electronically and through dedicated website, academics (in Physics and Medical Humanities), ( since the beginning of January 2017, and at an international conference.

Drs Laura Johnston and Paul L Chazot (Biosciences) 2017