Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Michaela French

MPhil work

Infinity, Intimacy and Immersion: Mediating states of presence through the embodied experience of light.

A body in light; a fundamental state of being. An innately knowable, interwoven and ubiquitous relationship which underpins and informs every human experience. Throughout history, the interaction between body and light has been an ongoing catalyst for discovery and creative expression. Light has been harnessed, measured, manipulated and investigated in order to expand knowledge and create experiences which abstract, re-frame and extend our somatic perspectives. Whether mediated by technology, visual representation or cultural paradigms, light focuses our attention, frames our narratives and dominates our interactions with the material world. 

This fundamental relationship between light and the body is at the core of this practice-led PhD enquiry. The research is critically framed by an ecological perspective on Presence Theory and is positioned at the intersection of fine art, moving image and experience design.

The study reflects upon the influence historical and contemporary thinking about light has on the evolution of human knowledge. Whether positioned in art, science or religion, light has always been at the edge of human understanding and acts as bridge between the immense, inconceivable complexity of the cosmos and the individual embodied experience of the world. This embodied experience is an immersive state, poised between intimacy and infinity. A state in which light acts a conduit; traversing and connecting nano, somatic and universal scales. 

It is possible to mediate states of presence in response to specifically designed artworks when the intimate and infinite are perceived as a unified whole. Presence can be elicited by activating perceptual cues intrinsic to the embodied experience of light through locus of attention, opto-kinetic stimuli, emotional and physiological engagement, and visual, aural & cinematic communication. 

Applying this approach through a range of practice-led methods, this enquiry establishes a clearly defined criteria for the production, analysis and evaluation of a collection of light-based artworks, immersive projection films and real world interventions designed to evoke states of presence in an audience. The investigation culminates with the production of a Presence Design lexicon which emerges from the practice-led research. This resource will identify and articulate the specific design strategies and approaches necessary to elicit states presence through the mediation of light and embodiment.


  • MPhil


    School of Communication


    Information Experience Design, 2014–

  • Michaela French is an artist, designer and researcher working with light and time-based media. Michaela’s practice explores light as a conduit between the intimate and infinite, bridging the immense complexity of the cosmos and the individual embodied experience of the world. Her artworks move between large-scale immersive projection spaces and small light-based objects and incorporate a broad range of traditional and digital production techniques. 

    Michaela is a PhD Candidate in Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art. Her practice-led research enquiry investigates the relationship between the embodied experience of light and states of presence.

    Michaela has extensive experience creating innovative installation and projection spaces for planetaria, live performance, contemporary dance and exhibition. She currently leads the RCA Fulldome Research Group and lectures in moving image, animation, motion design and immersive cinema.

  • Degrees

  • MA Digital Media, Australian Film Television and Radio School, 1999; Graduate Diploma, Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University, 1993; BA Fine Art (Hons), Canberra School of Art, Australian National University, 1991
  • Experience

  • Fulldome Projection Design, Secular Cosmologies, Director Dr Adrian Lahoud, Royal College of Art, London, 2016; Projection Designer and Researcher, Rock Paper Scissors Tour, Sting and Peter Gabriel, North American Tour, Research Knowledge Exchange, Royal College of Art, London, 2016; Projection and Stage Designer, Gothic - A Song Cycle, Director Andrée Greenwell, Vivid Festival, Sydney, 2015; Projection and Stage Designer, Carnival of the Animals, Director Yaron Lifschitz, Circa, Brisbane, 2013
  • Exhibitions

  • Catching the Light, Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, 2016; Aether, Lumen Collective with Jarvis Dooney Gallery, Berlin, 2016; The Observer Effect, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, 2016; The Motion of Matter, Rum Factory Project Space, Bow Arts, London, 2015; Nostalgias: Visualising Longing, Pie Factory Gallery, Margate, 2013
  • Awards

  • Best Sonic Experience, The Light of Home, Michaela French, Fulldome UK Festival, Leicester, 2016; FullDome Festival Finalist, Jury Selection, Jena Fulldome Festival, Zeiss Planetarium, Jena Germany, 2016
  • Conferences

  • RCA Fulldome Research Group Presentation and Screening, Fulldome UK Festival, National Space Centre, Leicester UK, 2016; Extending the Language of Fulldome Space, International Planetarium Society Conference, Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw Poland, 2016; Light, Space and Immersion, BFX Academic Conference, Bournemouth University Business Centre, Bournemouth, United Kingdom, 2015; RCA Fulldome Research Group Presentation and Screening, British Association of Planetaria Conference, Winchester Science Centre, 2015; Light and the Experience of Wonder, Ruminations on Space and Time, The Old Lookout Gallery, Canterbury Christchurch University, Broadstairs, UK, 2015
  • Publications

  • French, M. Ed. Broadhurst, S. Digital Bodies, Bodies in Light: Mediating States of Presence. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017; French, M. A Year of Light: 365 Observations. Article for International Year of Light 2015 blog discussing the research project A Year of Light, 2015; French, M. & Gazzard, A. Maps of Time: exploring the rhythms of a mediated world, Proceedings of the 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art, ISEA2013, Sydney, 2013