Shift Space saved, ready for art/tech show

12:45:20 PM CDT - Thursday, April 20, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

The March 31 S.O.S. (Save Our Space) Rent Party at WSU's Shift Space downtown accomplished its goal: WSU's School of Art & Design was able to pay the rent and save the space by selling student work created especially for the event.

That's good because next up for the public space is the Friday, April 28, reveal of what can happen when art and technology collide. The exhibit, "Wired: Art & Sound by Design," will showcase the collaborative student projects through Saturday, May 6.

"Wired" is the end result of John Harrison's new course, Technology: Art and Sound by Design. Harrison, associate professor of violin, is the director of the School of Music's Center for Research in Arts, Technology, Education and Learning (CRATEL), housed in Duerksen Fine Arts Center.

The CRATEL program, Harrison's brainchild born out of his master's work at MIT's Media Laboratory, made its debut along with the new course in January.

With an enrollment divided equally between engineering and fine arts students, Harrison's class focused on building and interfacing circuits to computers, and programming them to operate microcontrollers that run interactive sculptures and installations.

The main point of the course, however, lay in the conception and completion of an interactive artistic project for gallery display, Harrison said. The students have had their own blogs and their own Web sites for brilliant ideas and reality-based discussions on executing the visions.

The class "wiki" lists all the projects and other matters related to the coursework.

"The first one, �Dancing Water,' is dead," said Harrison. "But the others are all happening. I'm even doing one with a local artist; it's called �Laser Dance.'"

"Laser Dance," concocted by guest lecturer Tom McGuire and Harrison, is a large, monolith-type sculpture that can work indoors or out, and, according to the inventors' online comments, "will emit sounds, respond to the sounds around it and shoot a laser beam onto, perhaps, the outside of a building."

"Dancing Water" was given up because the student involved got interested in partnering on another student's project, "A Woman's Mind." Classmates Keith Neufeld, a network engineer for University Computing, and Andrea Primm, a music student interested in Internet radio, have built a coffin-like cabinet with three shadow boxes, the top one of which houses a computer monitor with a female mouth that smiles when you step in front of the exhibit. The middle and bottom boxes also have functions that help carry the social message of the piece.

His student body is definitely diverse, Harrison said, not only because of the discipline mix. The class is a melding of traditional students, teachers and other professionals such as Neufeld, PWI Inc. engineer McGuire, and artist and gallery owner Ann Resnick, who created "A Garden," a wall of flowers with interactive nature sounds, with Josh Tatum and Muaz Abdul-Halim.

Tatum and Abdul-Halim are among the students with electrical/computer engineering backgrounds; that list also includes Cheston Jones, Shawn Wiggins, Matt Dykes, T. Jay Kalthoff, Jason Ragsdale, Paul Chen, Tim Force, Bill Jones and Chris Wells. Resnick and Primm are among the students with fine arts backgrounds, including Steven "Gu3," Charissa Perdaris, Scott Murray and Paul "Artmonkey" McKee.

Harrison knew there would be culture clashes in the class from the beginning, but he was still surprised at how entrenched some views were. The focus at first was more on what people couldn't do � engineers to artists and vice versa � but the students worked through their barriers. Having to document their ideas, stumbling blocks and solutions together brought them together, he said.

"It's been a really exciting journey," said Harrison.

Opening night for the exhibit is on Final Friday, Wichita's monthly gallery crawl, so if you go, be prepared to drive down Commerce Street to find the Shift Space. "Laser Dance" will be standing sentry outside, so Shift Space will be impossible to miss.

Other interactive pieces in the show include "Invisible Drums," "Nervous Machine," "Fire Fly Environment," "The family," "If Walls Could Talk," and "Persuasion."

Will the pieces in "Wired: Art & Sound by Design" look like art or will they look like robotics? Harrison said the answer to that question is best left to the viewers.

The exhibit "Wired: Art & Sound by Design" kicks off with a reception from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday, April 28 at Shift Space, 326 S. Commerce, and runs through Friday, May 5. Gallery hours are noon-4 p.m. Saturday, April 29 and Saturday, May 6; and 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, May 4 and Friday, May 5. For more information, contact John Harrison at 978-6572 or john.harrison@wichita.edu. For more about CRATEL, go to http://www.wichita.edu/cratel.

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