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Step inside this immersive installation aimed at altering your perception


By Michelle Cohan, CNN

(CNN) — Imagine relinquishing all sense of space and self — standing inside an area of stark darkness, interrupted by endless grids of light, and punctuated throughout by rising and falling acoustic tones, altering depth perception and consciousness.

No longer left to the imagination, that experience is possible by stepping inside an infinity illusion called “Light High.” Using thousands of LEDs and mirrors, water and sounds, German artist and spatial designer Jacqueline Hen’s award-winning installation aims to explore the glitch between analog and digital.

“It almost feels like entering the Matrix,” Hen said of her walk-in artwork, which she is featuring at the annual Amsterdam Light Festival, where more than 20 exhibits are lighting up the famed canals of the city until January 21, 2024.

Hen won the International Light Art Award for her Matrix-like installation, “Light High,” shown here. (Courtesy Jacqueline Hen)

“Light lets you create new realities within a space,” Hen told CNN ahead of the light festival. “For me, it’s very interesting to experiment and investigate the perception of reality and also the proprioception, so perception of body in space.”

Creating the 60-square-meter (646-square-foot) installation was no easy task, she added.

“Everything needs to be built really precisely (and) leveled perfectly because if the mirrors are (even just) one millimeter off, it wouldn’t work,” Hen said. “It needs to be perfect.”

She added that while she enjoys the whole process of preparing the electronics and welding, it can sometimes get quite repetitive, describing it as “thousands of steps until you reach the final artwork.”

Light as a portal to another world

The Cologne-based artist and spatial designer is known for creating light-based immersive art experiences. Last year in Switzerland, she exhibited “Formation of the Sun” at the Grindelwald Light Art Festival.

In “Formation of the Sun,” Hen set out to display the origin story of our planet. (Courtesy Jacqueline Hen)

The installation featured a 17-meter (56-foot) golden inflatable sphere made with holographic foil and filled with haze and sounds. It is punctured by two strong light beams that collide in the center of the work, and shattered throughout the space by mirrored artifacts, as if “the light is bending the space to its gravitational center,” Hen said.

The collision theory of how the galaxy was created served as her inspiration, she said, adding “I tried to create this immersive and also emotional space that somehow blurs the boundaries between mythical and scientific thinking.”

Another recent work featured human performers as part of the installation in Dortmund, Germany. Titled “Sympoiesis,” it had “futuristic beekeepers” interacting, examining and distributing thousands of tiny lights meant to resemble insects.

“This work was about the overlay of performance and everyday life to create alternate realities,” she said.

The artist says her thought process first begins with sensory perception of a space, and how people would move through it, and then the concept and techniques flow from there.

While Hen said she never actively sought out a career as a light artist, she’s always been fascinated by all kinds of light. While in university, she started experimenting with the medium. Today, she is fostering the next generation of designers as a professor for artistic experimental design basics at RheinMain University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany.

“It’s a big responsibility to create an environment where the students feel free to experiment, discuss, question the status quo, and feel safe expressing their thoughts,” Hen said.

She hopes her work will continue to foster a sense of altered perception and allow people to “defer from (their) every day.”

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