Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Luke Jerram

luke jerram
Visiting Senior Research Fellow

Luke Jerram is a multidisciplinary artist who has created a number of extraordinary large scale public engagement artworks which have excited and inspired audiences around the globe. Jerram’s ongoing research of perception is fuelled by the fact that he is colour-blind.
He studies the qualities of space and perception in extreme locations, from the freezing forests of lapland to the sand dunes of the Sahara desert.
New ways of seeing and new artworks emerge from these research field trips. Works such as ‘Retinal Memory Volume’, ‘The Sky Orchestra’ and ‘Glass Microbiology’ have emerged from Jerram exploring the edges of perception. Published by The Watershed, ‘Art in Mind’ is a book written by Jerram that tracks much of his perceptual research.

'Retinal Memory Volume' is an interactive installation that builds sculpture using the biological mechanisms of the viewer's eyesight. During the experience the viewer's eyes both construct, then erode the form. The patented retinal after-image process can be considered as a form of printing or photography, where the retina replaces the paper or light sensitive film. The object is created from the absence of photo-pigments in the eye. Developed with the support from the University of Wales Optometry Department, the work was commissioned by EMAF and first exhibited in 1997. Described as a classic in its field, eleven years since its creation the installation is still touring museums and festivals around the world. 


In 2001 Jerram was awarded a three year NESTA Fellowship which led to the project ‘The Sky Orchestra’, an ongoing sleep research project and experimental artwork bringing together performance and music to create visual audio installations within the air and within the mind. The Sky Orchestra is made up of seven hot air balloons, each with speakers attached, which take off (at dawn or dusk) and fly across a city. Researching the effects of sound on sleep, each balloon plays a different element of a musical score, creating a massive audio landscape. Many thousands of people experience the Sky Orchestra event live as the balloons fly over their homes at dawn. The airborne project is both a vast spectacular performance as well as an intimate, personal experience. A form of provocative acoustic urban art, Sky Orchestra questions the boundaries of public artwork, private space and the ownership of the sky.

The first Dream Director prototype was built in 2005/6  at UWE with funding from an AHRC Arts and Science Research Fellowship. It was created to further understanding of the affects of sound on sleep and to inform new Sky Orchestra compositions. Collaborators Dr Chris Alford and Dr Jennie Parker believe the research to have both artistic outputs and clinical applications for people suffering from trauma who commonly experience nightmares.

Jerram started making his ‘Glass Microbiology’  ‘artworks in 2004. Made to contemplate the global impact of each disease, the artworks were created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially coloured imagery we receive through the media. In fact, viruses have no colour as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. By extracting the colour from the imagery and creating jewel like beautiful sculptures in glass, a complex tension has arisen between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent. His transparent and colourless glassworks consider how the artificial colouring of scientific microbiological imagery affects our understanding of these phenomena. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudo-coloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t? How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

Glass Microbiology’ artworks are held in private collections and in museums around the world. They have been shown at the Venice Biennale, Mori Museum, Tokyo and Museum of Art and Design, New York. In 2007 Jerram won an Institute for Medical Imaging Award and in 2010 he was awarded the coveted Rakow Award and a fellowship at the Museum of Glass, Washington for this work.

The celebrated street pianos installation ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ was first first commissioned by Fierce Earth of Birmingham and have been touring since 2008 and shown in over 30 cities around the world. Located in public parks, bus shelters and train stations, outside galleries and markets and even on bridges and ferries, pianos are available for any member of the public to play and enjoy. Who plays them and how long they remain is up to each community. Many pianos are personalised and decorated by artists or the local community. By creating a place of exchange ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ invites the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment.

Jerram was a key member of the team at Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, University of Southampton who were awarded a major grant from EPSRC and a further grant from the Arts Council England to design, build and tour Jerram’s artwork ‘Aeolus’ which has just finished a touring exhibition around the UK. An investigation of acoustics, wind and architecture Aeolus is a giant aeolian wind harp and optical pavilion.