Light painting for people with special needs
”What? You are teaching light painting to blind people??” Yes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For me, light painting is not only a way to make art but it’s a great opportunity to give a chance for those people who are not able to do art with traditional techniques. Those people might not have a possibility to hold a pen in their hand but they can drive an electric wheelchair that has lots of leds and light sabers taped on it.
From the first workshops to the university
Nine years ago I left my job in a lighting design office and started a new career as a social worker. Two years earlier I had started as a voluntary friend for a mentally disabled man (we are still friends after 11 years) and I wanted to try my wings in the social work area. One day I had an idea to teach shadow installations to mentally disabled people and the feedback was awesome! Valopaja (light art workshop) was born.
After the first year, I got my own light art club for mentally disabled people. We made shadows and photographed them by pocket cameras. By accident one photo had short light trails and it made me wonder if the pocket camera would give more seconds to make light trails. And it did, 15 seconds! That opened a totally new world to me and I started to organize light art workshops for all kinds of people with special needs: autistic kids, old people with memory disease, kids with ADHD, people with cerebral palsy but also workshops in normal kindergartens and schools. There has also been light painting workshops in The University of Helsinki, refugee centres, modern art museums, science centre and last year I had a workshop for blind people. For that workshop, I got a lot of help from Steven Erra who is a blind light painter from New York and also a member of Seeing With Photography Collective.
In 2010 I found some light paintings of Janne Parviainen and contacted him. Some weeks after that I had a meeting with him and his friend Hannu Huhtamo and we formed a light art collective. Some years after that I taught light painting to Markus Lohikoski who is mentally disabled guy and he became a member of our art collective. Markus has also had his own workshops for other mentally disabled people.
Light painting in art therapy
Some art therapists and psychotherapists are excited about light painting and they also use light painting in their work. Last year was published a book Digital Art Therapy (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) which includes a chapter on using light painting in art therapy. The main author of the chapter is an art therapist Christina Vasquez but I also wrote about my techniques and experiences.
I really would like to see that light painters visit places where they could teach this awesome art form to people with special needs. Let every people have the chance to make light art – they will remember it for the rest of their life.