Refracting Rays

Aidan Nelson

This installation uses custom lenses and digital rendering software to allow audience members to engage with optics and the phenomenon of refraction.


How light interacts with surfaces, lenses and our eyes is fundamental to how visual arts are created and perceived. Despite this importance, education around basic optical principles tends to employ a science-first approach which may not resonate within an artistic community. This installation attempts to bridge that gap by encouraging audience members to holistically engage with optics and the phenomenon of refraction.

This installation consists of a series of engagements with playful and impractical lenses. A custom software tool distorts images such that they can only be seen through these lenses (a process known as anamorphosis). In the first such engagement, audience members are invited to draw on a digital canvas while looking through one such lens. They are then able to view the results of their work with and without the lens. In the second engagement, audience members encounter a large, amorphous video projection. They later realize that the imagery can be decoded through a viewer mounted within the space. These experiments aim to inspire audience members’ curiosity about the behavior of light.

As an artist’s understanding of foundational optical principles grows, their palette is expanded to allow aesthetic exploration and play using these elements. This installation aims to reduce technical barriers to entry and inspire artists to incorporate creative custom optics into their practice.