Over October & November of 2023 we did the first days of development on a new sensory light installation: Jellyfish! about deep sea creatures, slimey gloop & other ways of thinking.
Jellyfish! has been years in the making. The very first ideas we had for it were inspired by conversations with Dr Lesley Collier, based down at Brunel University. Dr Collier introduced us to the idea of sensory profiles: that everyone has a level to which they like to have their senses stimulated and a level to which they seek that stimulation out. We (Leo + Mel) found ourselves at opposite ends of the scale, Leo likes lots of visual/sound/touch stimulation and actively seeks out stimulating environments, Mel gets easily overwhelmed, but is often confused about why. Lots of Dr Collier’s work was focussed on building sensory environments and sensory rooms.
We got thinking about sensory rooms, which gave us the seed of this project:
an adaptable, responsive artwork that invited you to build the sensory environment you wanted to be in. We wanted to make our own sensory room. We’ve had the idea for years but we haven’t been doing anything with it. We talk every few months about how much we love it but never managed to get it off the ground.
Light Art & Deep Sea Creatures
Then about a year ago we got obsessed with light art. Our idea about an interactive sensory room became an idea about a deep sea creature made of light, slimy tentacles, glowing orbs and fibre optic cables that audiences could come and interact with.
We were drawn to the mystery and the wonder of fish and creatures that live at the depths of our ocean. Creatures that glow and shine, who are spiky and slimy, who are mesmerising and grotesque, beautiful and dangerous. Some top finds from our research -
This is a Peacock Mantis Shrimp, which has two front arms it uses to attack its prey. The movement is one of the fastest in the animal kingdom and is strong enough to break an aquarium’s glass.
This is a pink see through fantasia. It’s a type of sea cucumber, which uses bioluminescence to ward off predators. The fantasia has transparent skin, through which you can see its mouth, anus and intestines.
This is a nudibranch, a type of sea slug. It protects bright camouflage and can swallow, digest and reuse stinging cells from its prey.
(Check out popular mechanics for more weird sea creature fun)
Deep sea creatures think and feel differently, and by making a deep sea creature out of light we want to make a piece that celebrates neurodivergence and all the ways humans think and feel differently too. We want Jellyfish! to be an artwork that centres the experiences of our neurodiverse audiences, inviting audiences into an interaction with a glowing deep sea creature, to explore collaboration and play together.
Galoshans Bursary Artists
In September 2023 we were selected as Galoshans Bursary Artists with RIG Arts to develop the early ideas for Jellyfish! Through the residency we wanted to explore different materials, textures & substances we might use to create the piece, and experiment with how audiences could be invited to interact and play with them.
As part of our development we had a great Saturday afternoon running a sensory play session with RIG’s superhero stories group. We dunked our hands in watery slime, played with some touch based sound systems, and made our own deep sea creatures from balloons and paint. At the end of the residency we ran a creative workshop in the RIG art van, where we invited audiences into a gently immersive deep sea cave, with light up jellyfish and underwater sounds. There everyone was able to make a small deep sea creature out of balloons, tissue paper, and glow sticks to take home.
With RIG spent a few days exploring gloop and slime, as well as material - latex and conductive fabric. We played with interactive lights, from glowing waterproof orbs (amazing) to sound sensitive disco lights (wildly overwhelming). We spent a day thinking about what we wanted the final artwork to look like - we did some imagining on paper, and with AI.
Our time on the residency also got us thinking a lot about the sea. About the changing and degrading oceans, and about sustainability. Many of the materials we found ourselves working with were cheap and plastic, and as the residency wore on we grew curious about what other sustainable and organic materials are out there. We became a bit infatuated with the future materials bank and bioplastic cookbook, and we’re now imagining a jellyfish creature made of seaweed and fish skin, and we’re keen to explore how this might be possible.
In November 2023, were selected as bursary recipients on the SPARK! Programme, run by a group of light festivals in the North of England: Light Up the North. We joined a cohort of other emerging light artists to visit two light festivals: Light Up Lancaster and Lightwaves in Salford.
There were light up flowers you could go inside like a bee, and light that traced patterns of jumping fish over water. We saw an interactive storm on the roof of a church.
We came away with so many ideas and a lots of very practical knowledge about how to make installations that can survive the great outdoors.
We're now fusing it all together. We're exploring future materials and light art, deep sea creatures and neurodivergence, and seeking support to help us create Jellyfish!
Coming soon (we hope) to a festival near you!