3 Brilliant Pieces From America’s First Major Light Art Festival

At Baltimore’s Light City festival, innovative process are illuminated.

In 1816, Baltimore became the first American city to line its streets with gas streetlights, one of the first instances of public illumination. Exactly 200 years later, the streets of Baltimore will be lit up by large-scale projection installations, glowing interactive structures, and LED-lit pieces of art. Celebrating the city’s long history of lighting innovation, the Light City festival brings together 26 artists who are using light as their medium.


Mateo M

Among them is Mateo M, whose Digital Skin allows visitors to “paint” their friend’s faces and bodies with light using projection mapping.

A performance artist and stage designer, Mateo M frequently works with the audio-visual design studio Moment Factory (whose design for the band Muse Co.Design recently covered), creating projection mapped sets for the likes of Jay Z and the Céline Dion.

For his piece in Light City, the artist–or any visitors who want to give it a try–will use his own software to paint immersive digital environments for visitors sitting before a blank screen. The drawings are projected and mapped to the visitors’ bodies–think of it as Microsoft Paint with the world as your canvas.

Yandell Walton

The Australian artist Yandell Walton will offer another projection installation, though hers comes with an ominous environmental warning. In Human Effect, Walton uses high-definition projections to make it appear as if plants are growing up a wall. When visitors approach the wall, Kinect motion sensors pick up on their presence–and the projected plants wither and die, a blunt depiction of humanity’s impact on the environment. When visitors move away, the flora is returns to its healthy state.

To create the projected imagery, Walton worked with Australian animator Tobias Edwards. After photographing plant life similar to what she wanted projected in her piece, Walton handed over the images to Edwards. to develop into a 3-D model that he then incorporated into the overall scene. Though underscored with a message of human carelessness, the piece has a distinctly whimsical quality: Lush foliage bows and shrivels with the wave of a hand, only to bloom and straighten as soon as it has sensed the human presence has passed.

Lisa Dillin

Another of the festival’s pieces that highlights the human impact on the natural world is Natural Light Emulator by Baltimore artist Lisa Dillin. Using cut vinyl and fluorescent lighting, Dillin created a series of installation pieces that emulate natural light filtered through a canopy of trees. Though created through industrial means, the effect of the pieces are strikingly similar to the shadows produced by natural light through a window. It’s a fitting piece for a festival dedicated to artificial light and the immersive illusions it can create.


The Light City festival will run from March 28-April 3 in various locations around Baltimore. Find more information about the festival here and more images of Digital Skin, Human Effect, and Natural Light Emulator in the gallery above.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.