Dorothy Di Stefano

19th June 2024

If you are a lighting, or design professional, and have been on LinkedIn at any point in the past few years, chances are high you will have seen a post from Dorothy Di Stefano. With a following of more than 70,000, the Australian art curator is something of a “LinkedIn Celebrity”, regularly sharing some of the most amazing and inspiring works of immersive art from across the globe.

Founder and Director of art collective Molten Immersive Art, Di Stefano has curated art events around the world, including the immense Noor Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and stands as a leading authority in the captivating realm of narrative-based immersive and interactive art.

Following her star appearance at Light + Intelligent Building Middle East in Dubai at the turn of the year, arc was lucky enough to sit down with Di Stefano to find out more about her backstory, and what she looks for when curating immersive art events.

With a career that has spanned marketing and architectural drafting, to multimedia and audio engineering, Di Stefano describes her path as “more like a spontaneous dance than a meticulously planned journey”, but her fascination with immersive art has been there, in some fashion, since she was a child.

“My journey into the world of art and immersive experiences was fuelled by my love for the beauty around us and my unwavering passion for music,” she says. “My fascination with art, particularly at the intersection of technology, stems from a lifelong love of all things beautiful, and an innate curiosity about the world around me. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been spellbound by the simple wonders of nature – the fluffy clouds, the crunchy leaves, and those breath-taking sunrises. These simple pleasures make me feel alive, and I found inspiration in the serene beauty of nature, the expressive power of music, and the captivating allure of visual art.

“However, it was the marriage of art and technology, including kinetic sculptures, robotics, and especially light art, that truly captured my imagination. I’ve always been drawn to the interplay of light and shadow, and how it can transform spaces and evoke emotions. Light art, with its ephemeral nature and ability to create an emotional connection, captivated me from the start.”

While Di Stefano’s career began in the graphic design industry, where she worked as a business development manager, she “seized the opportunity to expand the company’s horizons” as offshore design services became more accessible. As such, she transitioned the business into the space of video production and animation, a move she believes “opened up new avenues for growth and innovation”.

“I was on the lookout for our next move when I attended a speaker’s event where the topic of the power of experiences resonated deeply with me. It was a pivotal moment. The very next day, I redirected the studio’s focus, forging partnerships with cultural institutions in Australia to immerse ourselves in the art scene. It felt like the missing piece of the puzzle had finally fallen into place.”

This is where Molten Immersive Art was born; beginning its journey by focusing on crafting large-scale exhibitions primarily within Australia, Di Stefano soon envisioned a broader scope for the company, delving into curating events, festivals, and immersive art-based experiences, driven by a deep appreciation for the artists themselves.

“At the core of our vision is a belief that art is more than just the finished piece; it’s about the soulful, passionate humans behind the creations,” she continues. “Our aim is to amplify their voices and provide a platform for them to share their work with the world. Central to Molten’s ethos is the idea of integrating art into everyday life, making it an indispensable part of our existence, rather than a luxury.”

As it has evolved, Molten has expanded its horizons to include creative consulting and art direction, and is also set to launch an artist agency, serving as a hub for organisations, clients, and brands to discover the ideal artist for their projects. “Our strength lies in seeing the bigger picture and leading teams to manifest artistic visions, all while fostering relationships built on mutual respect and trust. Through collaboration and a shared passion for creativity, we aim to nurture an industry that fosters innovation and cultivates moments of pure magic.”

While Di Stefano hopes to bring art to the masses, a central focus for her is on the burgeoning world of immersive art, and the multi-dimensional experience that she believes “transcends the boundaries of traditional artwork” with a fusion of tangible and intangible factors.

She continues: “What truly intrigues me is the idea of making people not just viewers, but active participants in the artwork itself. The ability to blend artistic expression with cutting-edge technology to create immersive experiences that transcend traditional boundaries is what drew me into this field. Whether it’s the mesmerising dance of light and shadow, or the intricate choreography of a robotic installation, I’m endlessly fascinated by the transformative power of these art forms.

“At its core, immersive art is about more than just what you see or touch; it’s about engaging all the senses to create a truly transformative experience; it’s the interplay of visuals, sound, texture, and even scent, that transports viewers to another world, allowing them to escape the confines of their everyday lives and become fully immersed in the artwork.

“But perhaps the most ephemeral aspect of immersive art is the emotional connection it fosters. It’s about creating an environment where viewers feel not just like spectators, but like active participants in the artistic journey. Whether through interactive elements that invite viewers to become part of the artwork, or through the sheer power of the artist’s vision, immersive art has the ability to evoke a wide range of emotions, from awe and wonder to introspection and contemplation.

“Ultimately it’s about blurring the lines between reality and fiction, creating moments of wonder and connection that linger long after the experience is over, and tapping into the innate human desire for exploration and discovery, creating an environment where anything feels possible.”

As a medium that is built primarily on technology, and the participant’s interaction with it, immersive art has seen what Di Stefano refers to as “a remarkable evolution” over the past decade, which she believes has been “propelled by a convergence of technological innovation and a burgeoning appetite for more interactive and participatory experiences”.

Such innovation has seen the wide-scale adoption of technologies such as projection mapping, augmented reality, and interactive installations, which she adds have “revolutionised the way artists conceptualise and create immersive artworks”.

She continues: “Augmented reality, as an example, has opened up new possibilities for interactive storytelling, allowing viewers to engage with artworks in unprecedented ways and become active participants in the artistic experience.

“Artists are increasingly blurring the lines between physical and digital realms, integrating elements of both to create hybrid artworks that challenge our perceptions and expand our understanding of what constitutes art. From kinetic sculptures that come to life with the touch of a button, to interactive installations that respond to the movements of the audience, the boundaries of immersive art are constantly being pushed and redefined.

“Beyond LEDs, which have democratised access to lighting capabilities, artists have embraced a spectrum of new tools and techniques that have reshaped the landscape of light art. Advancements in sensors and other emerging technologies have expanded the repertoire of tools available to light artists, enabling them to push the boundaries of their craft and experiment with new forms of expression; whether it’s the integration of responsive sensors that interact with viewers, or the incorporation of kinetic elements that imbue artworks with a sense of motion and dynamism, these technologies have broadened the horizons of what is possible in the realm of light art, allowing viewers to actively engage with the artwork, influencing its behaviour and creating personalised experiences in real-time.

“Another significant change in the field has been the growing emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility, with artists striving to create experiences that are not only visually captivating but also emotionally resonant and socially relevant. There is a greater awareness of the power of art to foster connection, empathy, and understanding, and artists are harnessing this potential to create immersive experiences that address pressing social issues and promote positive change.”

One of the most significant developments in the field though, and one that is continuing to change, grow, and progress with each passing day, is the influx of AI. Although still in its infancy, we are already seeing how, working with AI, artists can revolutionise the way that they both conceptualise and execute their artworks.

Keeping a very keen eye on the ever-changing developments surrounding AI, Di Stefano is fascinated by the “plethora of possibilities” for enhancing immersive art installations, particularly in terms of interactivity and personalisation.

“By leveraging AI algorithms, artists can create dynamic and adaptive experiences that respond to the audience’s behaviour and emotions in real-time,” she adds. “For example, AI-driven systems can analyse biometric data such as facial expressions or heart rate to tailor the experience to the viewer’s mood, preferences, and physiological responses.

“It has also opened up new avenues for artistic exploration and experimentation, enabling artists to collaborate with intelligent systems to co-create artworks. Through techniques such as generative adversarial networks (GANs), and machine learning, artists can train AI models to generate novel and unexpected visual or auditory compositions, sparking new ideas and pushing the boundaries of traditional artistic practices.”

In her work as a curator of some of the biggest and best light art festivals around the world, Di Stefano has had a front row seat to witness some of the mind-blowing advancements in the field of immersive light art, and with this, has had the opportunity to work closely with some of the most sought-after names in the field – a privilege that she is acutely aware of.

“As someone deeply immersed in the industry, I find inspiration in the work of numerous artists and collectives who are pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation, so to name a favourite artist is like asking me for my favourite sunrise.

“One artist whose work continually captivates me is Christopher Bauder, a master of light and sound whose installations are renowned for their transformative power and mesmerising beauty. His ability to create immersive environments that evoke a sense of wonder and awe is truly extraordinary, and his contributions to the field have been nothing short of groundbreaking.

“James Turrell’s ability to manipulate light and colour with precision and subtlety is truly inspiring, and his work serves as a constant source of fascination and inspiration for me.

“David Spriggs is one contemporary artist whose work continually leaves me in awe. His mastery of depth and transparency creates breathtaking three-dimensional installations that seem to defy gravity and perception.

“Projection and installation artist, Yann Nguema’s ability to seamlessly blend intricate visuals with captivating soundscapes, that transport viewers to otherworldly realms, is something to behold.

“I also love the work of SpY, with his thought-provoking urban interventions and playful subversions of public spaces that challenge viewers to reconsider their surroundings and question the status quo. His art installations prompt reflection on societal norms and expectations, sparking conversations and engaging communities in unexpected ways.”

However, while there are many established artists whose work deserves recognition, Di Stefano believes it is also equally important to shine a spotlight on emerging artists and lesser-known practitioners who are “making waves” in the art world.

In this regard, there are a few names for which she reserves special praise: “One such artist who I believe deserves more recognition is Chantal Matar, an architect and generative designer whose work blurs the boundaries between art, architecture, and technology. Her innovative approach to spatial design and her use of artificial intelligence to craft unique and captivating experiences sets her apart.

“Another emerging artist whose work shows great promise is Joon Moon, whose mastery of light and shadow creates enchanting narratives that linger long after the experience ends. His ability to fuse technology and art to create immersive experiences that resonate deeply with viewers is truly remarkable, and I believe he has the potential to make a significant impact on the future of immersive art.

“Additionally, I’m in love with everything created by Studio McGuire. Their ability to create rich and captivating narratives that transport audiences to new worlds is truly inspiring.

“I am always on the lookout for breakthrough artists who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the space. Whether it’s through experimental techniques, innovative use of technology, or thought-provoking storytelling, these artists are shaping the future of art in exciting and unexpected ways.”

One of the defining moments of Di Stefano’s career to date came in 2021, when she was invited to advise the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia – giving her the opportunity to collaborate with other global experts representing a wide array of fields, from literature and performance to museums and music.

“Our mission was to craft concepts for future events and festivals in the region. Being part of such a massive project not only got my creative juices flowing, but also broadened my perspective on the arts.”

This collaboration led her to curating the 2022 edition of Noor Riyadh, the world’s largest light art festival, and working alongside a whole host of leading artists – including Christopher Bauder, Daan Roosegaarde, Yann Kersalé, teamLab, SpY, Arne Quinze, Grimanesa Amorós, and Pauline David. A landmark achievement, however looking back on the event, its scale is not what she is most proud of.

“Witnessing the moments of connection and collaboration that blossomed throughout the festival was immensely rewarding. Observing artists from diverse backgrounds unite, discover mutual admiration for each other’s work, and discuss future collaborations was truly inspiring,” she recalls. “These interactions not only facilitated creative exchange, but also forged enduring connections transcending borders and cultures.

“I am also extremely proud of the impact the artwork had on the local culture and community. Seeing how the beautiful artworks resonated with audiences, bringing profound wonder and joy to people’s lives, was deeply gratifying. It reaffirmed the transformative power of art to inspire, uplift, and unite people across cultural divides.”

Across the events that Di Stefano curates she primarily looks to commission artists to create site-specific, bespoke pieces that are tailored to the narrative and the unique characteristics and ambience of the venue in question. This, she feels, “allows for a deeper integration of the artwork with the environment, creating a more immersive and cohesive experience for the audience”. Commissioning new works also means that the artists can realise their vision in a way that is “harmonious with the space and the overall theme of the event,” she adds.

“While I do occasionally include existing installations that have appeared elsewhere [such as Daan Roosegaarde’s Waterlicht at Noor Riyadh], the majority of the artworks featured in our events are new commissions. This not only ensures that each event offers fresh and exciting experiences for attendees, but also allows us to support and showcase the creative talents of emerging and established artists alike.

“When commissioning new works, I prioritise open communication and collaboration with the artists to ensure that their vision is preserved, while also adapting the artwork to the specific site and context. This often involves conducting site visits, discussing the unique features and constraints of the venue, and exploring how the artwork can interact with its surroundings in meaningful ways.”

This interaction with its surroundings is an integral part of an installation’s success, Di Stefano feels, adding that the context and setting of a piece “significantly influences the way audiences perceive and interact with the artwork”, as the environment can profoundly impact the overall experience, shaping the mood, atmosphere, and emotional resonance of the piece.

“One of the key aspects of immersive art is the ability to engage with the surrounding space in a way that blurs the boundaries between the artwork and its environment,” she adds. “By considering the context and setting of the artwork, artists can create experiences that feel integrated and harmonious within the space, enhancing the sense of immersion and presence for the audience.

“Context and setting can also provide layers of meaning and depth to immersive artworks, enriching the narrative and expanding the viewer’s understanding of the piece. Whether situated in a historic building, a natural landscape, or a contemporary gallery space, the context of the artwork can evoke associations, memories, and emotions that add complexity and resonance to the overall experience. Setting can also influence the way audiences perceive time, space, and scale, allowing for a more dynamic and multi-dimensional engagement with the artwork. For example, an outdoor installation may evoke feelings of expansiveness and connection to nature, while an intimate indoor setting may create a sense of closeness and introspection.”

With the ever-changing nature of the medium, from the technical advancements, adoptions of new methods and concepts, and even the growing popularity of light art installations and events, immersive art as a whole is in a near-constant state of evolution. As part of this evolution, Di Stefano feels that the medium is moving beyond isolated visitor experiences, becoming more integrated into the wider urban environment – a shift that she believes reflects a growing recognition of the potential for immersive art to enrich public spaces, foster community engagement, and contribute to the cultural identity of cities.

“Traditionally, immersive art has often been associated with dedicated exhibition spaces, galleries, or temporary installations that offer immersive experiences for individual visitors or small groups. However, there is a growing trend towards integrating it into the fabric of urban environments, where it can be experienced by a broader audience in everyday settings,” she adds.

“One manifestation of this trend is the increasing use of public spaces such as parks, plazas, and streetscapes as venues for immersive art installations and events. By activating under-utilised or overlooked spaces with artworks, cities can create vibrant cultural hubs that attract residents and visitors alike, fostering a sense of community and civic pride, revitalising neighbourhoods, and enhancing the urban experience.”

As for the future of the medium, Di Stefano believes that there are several emerging trends that will reshape the landscape of immersive art and “chart a course for future evolution”.

One such trend that she predicts is the growing fusion of virtual and physical realms, “erasing the boundaries between digital and tangible encounters”.

She continues: “This integration offers a fertile ground for crafting immersive narratives that seamlessly blend the real with the virtual, providing audiences with captivating and deeply engaging experiences.

“Another notable trend is the surge in interactive storytelling, where participants actively shape the narrative and outcomes of their experiences. This trend reflects a rising demand for personalised and participatory encounters that foster deeper engagement and connection with audiences.

“Looking forward, advancements in technology such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, are driving innovation in the industry. These technologies are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, democratising the creation and consumption of immersive experiences, while pushing the boundaries of immersion and realism.

“The industry is also poised to further embrace multi-sensory experiences that engage all five senses, offering heightened levels of immersion and impact. This shift will likely catalyse the development of novel technologies and techniques to incorporate tactile, olfactory, and gustatory elements into immersive encounters.

“I’m also expecting to see increased collaboration and convergence with adjacent creative sectors such as gaming, film, and live entertainment. This interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and expertise promises to spawn a new wave of ambitious and innovative immersive experiences that push the boundaries of storytelling and immersion, offering audiences unparalleled adventures and discoveries.”

As for any aspiring artists and designers wanting to enter the brave new world of immersive art and use light as a medium for artistic expression, Di Stefano has the following advice:

“Firstly, when delving into this world, it’s crucial to embark on a journey of experimentation and exploration. This involves fearlessly exploring various techniques, materials, and technologies to uncover your distinct artistic voice.

“Collaboration is pivotal, offering opportunities to work with fellow artists, technologists, and experts in related fields. By collaborating, you can expand your creative horizons, gain new insights, and embark on ventures that lead to innovative breakthroughs. Such efforts often yield unexpected discoveries, enriching your artistic practice and fostering community.

“Considering the audience experience is paramount when crafting immersive pieces. Factors such as space, scale, and interactivity play crucial roles in creating captivating experiences that resonate with viewers. By prioritising the audience’s perspective, artists can cultivate meaningful connections and evoke powerful emotional responses through their artwork.

“Embracing advancements in technology, such as interactive sensors, empowers artists to create dynamic installations. Technology serves as a tool for enhancing the impact and versatility of artwork, offering new avenues for creative expression, and pushing boundaries of innovation.

“Infusing immersive pieces with narrative elements adds depth and meaning, inviting viewers to engage emotionally. Whether exploring personal themes or addressing social issues, storytelling enriches the viewer experience and creates compelling narratives that resonate long after the encounter.

“Iterating and refining artwork based on feedback and personal vision is crucial for growth. Remaining open to feedback, embracing experimentation, and continued learning are integral aspects of the artistic journey. Through continuous refinement, artists can hone their craft and create impactful artwork.

“And finally, drawing inspiration from diverse sources fuels creativity and passion. Staying curious and receptive to new ideas cultivates fertile ground for artistic expression.”

Reflecting on her own personal journey, which has seen her become widely regarded as the leading authority on immersive works of art, and an internet celebrity in the design world, Di Stefano remains humble, but is glad that the journey that she has taken has led her to the position that she is in.

“From marketing and architectural drafting to multimedia and audio engineering, I’ve explored a wide array of fields in the constant search for ‘what do I want to be when I grow up’,” she concludes.

“Looking back, it’s crazy to think how every little twist and turn led me here. From my studies to picking up skills along the way, each step has played a part in shaping my career in this industry. And while it definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m pretty confident that I have the best job in the world.”

Captured by Lights In Motion