Calming Influence Blooms

Inaugural new-media art installation helps soothe cancer patients


Walk into the radiation oncology waiting room in the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center and you might wonder if there's a breeze. On the far wall, as though hanging from the roof of a pergola, a drift of flowering vines shifts and glows in the gently lit space.

"The vines twist and sway really slowly," said John T. Lange, curator of Cedars-Sinai's art collection. "It's very peaceful, very soothing."

The installation, created by Los Angeles digital artist Jennifer Steinkamp, is named "Florence Nightingale," after the 19th-century pioneering nurse. A pair of computers connected to video projectors cast the image on the waiting room wall. The flowers - varieties like violets, yarrow, honeysuckle, foxglove, mistletoe and marigolds - are all plants with medicinal uses.

When the waiting room was refurbished last year, the remodeling was paid for by a local art collector who asked to be involved in the choice of art as well. An admirer of Steinkamp's work, the donor commissioned her to create a piece specifically for the space. This is the first new-media art installation at Cedars-Sinai.

Steinkamp, an internationally acclaimed artist, was born in Denver, grew up in Minnesota and studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. At the start of her career, she focused on abstract projections; her more recent works relate to the natural world.

Nightingale's pioneering in nursing launched the "Art for Healing" movement in 1859. The legendary nurse observed that "images pleasing to the eye and full of life enable the patients to forget, if temporarily, their pains." The "Florence Nightingale" installation, with its rich colors and relaxing rhythm, certainly fits the bill.

"Patients are there before they go in for treatment in oncology and tensions may be running high," Lange said. "Everything in the space, like the lighting, which is dimmer than in your typical hospital space, to the gently moving images, which give you the feeling that you might be outside, is very calming."