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Sha Xin Wei

(Atlanta, Georgia, United States)

Topological Media Lab, Softwear Experiment, 2003 (video)
Topological Media Lab, Softwear Experiment, 2003 (video)
After studying mathematics at Harvard and Stanford universities, Sha Xin Wei completed an interdisciplinary doctorate in mathematics, computer science, and the history and philosophy of science. He is now a professor at the School of Literature, Communication and Culture (LCC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta where he teaches the critical study of science, technology and media.

His creative and research activities cover many disciplines. For example, he is involved with such groups as the Stanford Humanities Center’s Interactive Media Group, which brings together specialists from fields as varied as literature, art, performance, science and philosophy to delve into interaction and the media. Pliant Research (1), a group he has founded with colleagues at Xerox PARC and Apple Research Labs, has been set up to conduct a critical review of science, technology and the media. The group’s aim is to devise pliant digital technologies better adapted to the richness of human interaction.

Sha is also the founding director of Topological Media Lab (TML), which has ties with his faculty’s New Media Center. The research he conducts with partners in this lab focuses on gesture, performance, responsive spaces, topological media, visualization technologies, and sensate fabrics. Inspired by topology, a branch of mathematics that studies physical connections and relationships of proximity, Sha’s research projects and the works he contributes to are characterized by a desire to forge closer ties between different fields and to demonstrate the continuity that exists between individuals and their environment.

For example, Hubbub (2001-2003), a project he has developed with a team from TML, has spawned several installations in different public spaces. Thanks to voice recognition and text conversion technologies, the conversations held in these spaces are projected onto surfaces that vary depending on the site. “Speech painting public spaces” are produced. In these environments, the participants establish links with one another while collaborating on a collective creation. They also help define the environment by occupying it with their speech, which becomes a visible and fluid matter.

With Sponge, a collective he founded in 1997 with Chris Salter and Laura Farabough, Sha has put together many other events, installations and performances in the same spirit. One of these projects, Tgarden, which sprang from an alliance between Sponge and FoAM (Belgium and the Netherlands), enables visitors to interact with other participants and inhabit the space by producing aural and visual content in a responsive environment thanks to instrumented clothing. Tgarden was presented in 2000 at SIGGRAPH 2000, [email protected]ra (Athens) and the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (Rotterdam), and in 2001 at Ars Electronica and the centre V2. The project received funding from the Foundation .

Sha’s projects merge several disciplines and fields of exploration within new media while probing the complex issue of individuals in their environment. The technologies used in his recent projects (such as gesture tracking, positioning via wireless transmission, the technology of sensors, and sensate fabrics) extend an individual’s influence, spatialize the individual, and sensitize the space. These technologies help generate engaging projects, create links between participants, and build continuity between individuals and their environment.

Many recent art projects in new media explore the expressive possibilities of responsive environments, notably within interactive installations. As for instrumented clothing and sensate garments, they have been used mainly in musical performances or in dance, artistic fields in which the body and gesture constitute the essence of the medium. Sha’s work is distinguished by his reliance on technologies used within these two fields and his study of the potential of responsive environments and instrumented clothing. Ultimately, his work spotlights the topological relationships that exist between individuals and the spaces they occupy.

Sylvie Parent © 2003 FDL