alina ling

Alina Ling lit up the recent Father's Womb rave by party collective Bussy Temple. Credit: Farzanah Hussein

Imagine the rush of being in a rave. You’ve got the sound system blasting on the speakers, the booze flowing, bodies on the dance floor blazing plus strobe lights and lots of lasers everywhere. Now consider some of the coolest parties put on this year by independent party collectives Strange Weather and Bussy Temple and the light show takes on a more conceptual approach not unlike an art performance. Cue wearable light devices on dancers and volumetric illuminations entrancing revellers.

Such immersive technicolour light shows have become a shorthand for the work of Alina Ling, a 26-year-old interactive experience designer. An alumna of the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, the artist has been building a repertoire that centres on her M.O. for turning an intangible medium such as light to be associated with the sense of touch.

alina ling
Credit:Courtesy of Alina Ling

Interactive designer Alina Ling is known for creating immersive multi-sensory light-based works.

In her bio on her website, she describes herself as someone who “creates interfaces, installations and experiences that explore new dimensions of sensory perception”. Some of her past installations have seen viewers given a torchlight to interact with a sculpture to create their own shadow play. Or consider another project where she constructed an alternate reality rocked by an earthquake – with a shaking room and moving projections accompanied by the hypnotic audio of rhythmic tremors. Ling takes the same experimental approach when it comes to her more recent move into the party space. Ahead, she tells us more about how she uses light to heighten the human senses in a party environment.

What first drew you to use light as your main medium for your craft?

“Light is interesting to me as a medium because of the way it transforms space. As my works involve creating sensory experiences, I devise different ways of using light to contribute to the making of atmospheres. Light has a sublime materiality to it, with the way it extends across space, interacts with the dark, and can be used to evoke emotional engagement and sensory immersion.”

Do you approach your work for installations and parties differently?

“My approach to designing experiences using light, sound, and space is centred around creating immersion and atmospheres, be it for installations and parties. I try to retain a similar ideation process when crafting the artistic concept for both experiences. As my work plays with the different human senses, I incorporate interaction as much as possible. For example, in the interactive installations (W)AVE and (W)AVE 2.0, we wanted to recreate and convey the concept of ‘presence’ in live atmospheres and raves using haptic interventions that react to light and physical bodies. 

However, I have to consider some differences when designing for both experiences as their nature varies. For an interactive installation, I have more autonomy over the setting in which the visitor experiences the work and space. For parties, I focus more on sensory stimulation and elevation of the atmosphere to encompass the energy of the DJ sets and/or performances. For example, I designed an installation, 10STROBES for Bussy Temple’s Father’s Womb rave, that serves as live scenography to immerse the DJs and party-goers in light.”

alina ling
Credit:Farzanah Hussein

The dynamic live scenography at Bussy Temple’s Father’s Womb rave in June was the brainchild of Alina Ling.

What are the main themes that you often explore or find recurring within your work?

“My work involves manipulating the physical and intangible to explore new dimensions and connections in our sensory perception. I incorporate interactive technology with different modalities, such as wearable sensor-based devices and generative systems, to create multi-sensory experiences that challenge our senses. One of the themes of my work is to materialise the intangible, where I have experimented with the idea of touching light by developing wearable haptic devices in Tactility of Light. These explorations of light solidified my belief in its sublimity as well as the perceptual quality of the medium in immersive environments.”

You emphasise a lot on tactitlity in light design. How does it affect a party’s mood and the way we react within a party space in your opinion?

“‘Tactility’ in light seems like a paradox as it suggests that the intangible medium can be associated with touch. This concept was first explored in Tactility of Light, where I experimented with ways in which the materiality of light can be conveyed. The installation was a physical interpretation of the concept, where viewers could ‘touch’ light through wearable gloves that translated light intensity into haptic output. I learned that there could be many imagined possibilities of light’s tactility – that is. how would the volumetric forms hold space and what would the textures feel like.

alina ling
Credit:Courtesy of Alina Ling

Alina Ling’s 2021 installation, Tactility of Light, explored the notion of whether light can be touched.

I consider both the materiality and immateriality of light when approaching my lighting designs for spaces and parties. The way light penetrates a space can change instantaneously, creating endless variations as light interacts with moving bodies. Considering light as an object also offers a different way to think about the configurations and movement of lighting fixtures in a party space. A party’s mood is set by the intensities of sonic and visual stimulations, when in sync further encourages movement.”

Your most recent work for a party is for queer party collective Bussy Temple’s Father’s Womb, where you did both the lighting and set design. What was the concept and how did you realise it?

“The light installation for Bussy Temple, 10STROBES, was inspired by skeletal structures in the key visual of Father’s Womb. Aligned with the team’s vision of the sacred and ethereal, I wanted to create an encircling frame that houses strobe lights, playing with volumetric illuminations, shadows, and stroboscopic effects. The concept was to merge the rich sonic scapes of Father’s Womb with the arrays of light to engulf visitors in endless lucid worlds.”

alina ling
Credit:Courtesy of Alina Ling

Ling employed live light programming and an interactive system, Moving Heads for the collaborative performance she pulled off with sound and visual arts label Uwalmassa and dance collective Ragaura for the Upacara Kampret! Party organised by Strang Weather.

Earlier in March, you did work for Strange Weather’s Upacara Kampret! Party. Was that your first time lighting for a party?

“Yes, that was my first time doing lighting for a party. Live light programming and an interactive system, Moving Heads, were integrated into the collaborative performance between the sound and visual arts label Uwalmassa, dance collective Ragaura, and myself. As themes of post-human and tribalism directed the sound and dance choreography, I incorporated wearable devices that link the movements of a moving head beam light to that of the user’s head into the performance. Relating the human to the machine, the work explores the synchronicity and disorder of moving bodies. Another concept was to use lighting elements to suggest three-dimensional space and create “walls” to define the performance area and dance floor. Compared to Father’s Womb, the lighting design for Upacara Kampret! was more performance-based.”

What makes a good party atmosphere in your opinion?

“A good party provides a place to escape, allowing for dissociation and stimulation. A good party atmosphere flows as a sequence of happenings and sensations, offering immersion, engagement, distraction, and attraction. Most importantly, the state of a party is a product of people’s energies, reactions, and interactions in the setting.”

alina ling
Credit:Courtesy of Alina Ling

A scene from Strange Weather’s Upacara Kampret! rave.

We assume that the audience for your installation work and the audience at these raves are quite different since the latter cater to a more Gen Z-centric/ alternative crowd. How does that come into consideration for you when designing for parties?

“I don’t see a distinction between my work for installations and parties when it comes to catering to specific audiences. Depending on the setting, I hope the installations can be enjoyed by all audiences. When designing for parties, I generally consider other parameters such as the space and the sound.”

From your personal experience, how have parties in Singapore evolved?

“Through working with both local collectives, I think the teams create strong artistic visions and concepts for the parties they organise. It is refreshing to see increasing emphasis on different components that contribute to the atmosphere of their parties. I think there are more cross-disciplinary collaborations between artists and collectives to create new experiences. There is also a focus on the well-being of the party-goers, with dedicated spaces for rest, conversations and bonding.”