Shawn Alan Brixey (born 1961) is Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, in Toronto, Canada. He is the former Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Chair for Arts, as well as Co-Founder and former Director of the pioneering research centre and doctoral program DXARTS (The Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media) at the University of Washington, Seattle. Brixey is an artist, educator, researcher, writer, and inventor working primarily at the interface of art, science and technology.
Brixey was born in Springfield, Missouri and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and Kansas City, Missouri. His parents Alan Brixey and Mary Lou Brixey were celebrated stage and radio performers, as well early television pioneers in the U.S. Brixey received a BFA in Sculpture and Experimental Media from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1985, and an MSVisS in Media Arts and Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988. At the Kansas City Art Institute he was a student and protege of Dale Eldred and Jim Leedy. At The Massachusetts Institute of Technology he studied at the Media Laboratory and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His thesis advisors and research mentors included renowned holography pioneer Steve Benton, sky artist Otto Piene, bio artist Joe Davis, and high-speed photography pioneer Harold Eugene Edgerton. While at MIT he worked as research assistant for numerous MIT Fellows and pioneers in the field including Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman and John Cage.
In 1989 Brixey was selected as the inaugural Leonardo Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and as a Visiting Artist at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills Michigan. In 1990 he joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky and founded their New Media Program which grew to include artist Eduardo Kac. In 1994 he joined the faculty at the University of Washington, and Chaired the new Interdisciplinary Visual Arts Program until 1997. In 1997 He received San Francisco State University's first Presidential Distinguished Scholar Award and helped found their New Media Institute. In 1998 he joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and was the Founding Director of the New Media Program. He rejoined the faculty at the University of Washington in 2002 to Co-Found the new DXARTS program along with composer Richard Karpen. In 2009 Brixey was honoured with the University of Washington's Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Chair in Arts and Sciences. In 2013, Brixey joined the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University as Dean, and is jointly appointed as Professor of Visual Art, Film and Digital Media.
In 2013 Brixey was named the ninth Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts by York University President, Mamdouh Shoukri. York University is the second largest research university in Canada, and The Faculty of Fine Arts at York one of the largest fine and performing arts faculty in North America, with more than 150 tenure line faculty, 100 lectures, 500 graduate students and 3000 undergraduates across Art, Dance, Design, Digital Media, Film/Video, Theatre and Performance Studies, Art History and Cultural studies.
Previously, Brixey was Co-Founder and former Director of the University of Washington's Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media. Established in 2002, DXARTS offers both hybrid B.F.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Research concentrations range from visual and aural synthesis, to algorithmic processes, sensing and control systems, mechatronic art, robotics, and telematic art. Designed around a revolutionary new model of creative practice, research, and discovery at the frontier of art, science and engineering, DXARTS supports the emergence of a new generation of arts pioneers by fostering the invention of new forms of art through expanded studio research that synthesize advances in digital computing, information technologies, science, biology and engineering.
During his tenure at the University of California, Berkeley, Brixey was Chair and Founder of the New Media Program and also Director of their Center for New Media Research from 1998 to 2002. While at the University of California he was Primary Investigator for the system wide Digital Arts Research Network with UC faculty Sheldon Brown, Sharon Daniel and Victoria Vesna. He served as an Executive Council Member of the UC President's Planning Group on Digital Art, and was an architect of the system wide "new media" Ph.D. initiative. Brixey served as an Executive Committee and Research Council Member for the system wide Digital Media Innovations Agency (DiMI), an Executive Committee Member of The Consortium for the Arts, and a founding Executive Committee member of The College of Environmental Design's Center for Design Visualization, as well as UC Berkeley's Institute for Design. He remains a Berkeley Art Museum Board of Trustees' Committee Member on New Media, and in 2008 was appointed by Ken Goldberg to the Board of Directors of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media. Other board members include Bill Mitchell, and Lev Manovich.
In 2009 Brixey served as the chair of the New and Virtual Media Directorate for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation, the CFI awards more than $500M annually for pioneering research in media arts, social science, electrical engineering and information technology. He currently serves on the board of Seattle based non-profit, The Center for New Cinema (CNC), current board members include Alvy Ray Smith, Yoki Matsuoka, and Stephen Lang. Brixey was appointed in 2011 to the International Scientific Advisory Council for GRAND, a National Research Council Canada networked research program. He serves in various capacities for numerous U.S. governmental agencies as well as other arts and cultural organizations. In 2013 Brixey was invited to be Creative Director of the inaugural Cinematic Innovation Summit, which will be an annual part of the world-renowned Dubai International Film Festival.
Brixey is best known for pioneering highly complex experimental artworks that synthesize physics, astronomy, cosmology, biology and advanced computing. Examples include his 1987 project Photon Voice filmed in the Mojave Desert and narrated for WETA - Smithsonian World Television by David McCullough. Further detailed in Frank Popper's 1992 book Art of the Electronic Age, Photon Voice uses radiation pressure from sunlight (the kinetic momentum of photons) to build a micro-gravitational system. The light source developed for the project encoded intense beams of sunlight with the artist's voice and was used to levitate tiny galaxies of graphite particles in a vacuum chamber. The levitated graphite had fallen from the pencils used to make both the early mechanical drawings for the project as well as the critical and poetic writings. Stereo video-microscopy allowed visitors to view these levitated galaxies, while scattered light from the levitated graphite particles was converted back into spoken word via novel photonics and electronics, creating an eccentric choir of audible voices endlessly speaking the words that were used the levitate the particles.
His project Alchymeia, was designed for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan and used naturally occurring steroids from the blood and urine of Olympic athletes to act as doping agents that would stimulate the growth of extraordinarily unusual snowflakes, snowflakes that would otherwise be impossible to find in nature. Detailed in Steve Wilson's 2002 book Information Arts, Alchymeia produces unique snowflakes that are precisely copied millions of times their original size creating spectacular colored ice crystals. Human biological material, which is physically embodied in the crystals atomic architecture, dramatically alters the snowflakes familiar and almost sacred form.
Chimera Obscura, created in collaboration with UC Berkeley Museum curator Richard Rinehart was commissioned for the 2002 premiere of the touring exhibition Genesis | Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery. Chimera Obscura examined issues of genomic research through the creation of a massive multi-user data driven organism. The project centered on the remote operation of a precision tele-robot that online visitors piloted through an elaborate real-world maze in a museum created from a human thumbprint. As visitors moved through the maze space they left behind archeological layers of virtual information genes in the form of text, video and audio. The stored data from their electronic "bread crumb trail" evolved into large scale inhabited information nodes. Much like architecture in cities, the information nodes in the maze were allowed to grow and mutate over time. The more activity that occurred within the data organism, the more the physical space changed. The highly mutable and evolving physical structure of the maze required millions of Internet visitors aligned in loose gaming confederations much like a social organism to generate a highly detailed internal map constructed of co-mingled hybrid virtual and real spaces.
Awarded a 2003 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Brixey's Eon project, developed novel high-energy ultrasound, sono-chemistry and plasma physics to explore the creation of "material poetry," art formed from the discrete interactions of matter and energy. Focused on harnessing the phenomenon of sonoluminescence, the process by which sound in liquids can be converted directly into light, to construct a tiny brilliant star-like light source, Eon allowed museum and tele-present visitors from the Internet to send short poetic e-mails in five different languages to the exhibition site and have them converted into voice-encoded ultrasound. The projects high-frequency sound field modulates a 1000ml vessel of ultra-pure water creating a series of high and low-pressure nodes. The sounds nodes trap microscopic gas bubbles at the center of the glass vessel, and through the process of sonoluminescence, the voice encoded sound field crush bubbles into infinitesimally small energy emitting points that produce a brilliant star-like light source radiating words as light from a small glass cylinder.
His most recent work Radiant Arc, commissioned by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North for the 2014 Arctic Winter Games, is designed to clone ancient ice-core samples taken from North American glaciers rapidly disappearing due to global climate change. Using ultra-pure water and a process called "doping", primarily used in semiconductor and solar cell manufacturing, the artist will create hundreds of thin-section ice crystal clones forming an massive luminous arc along the museum's exterior façade. Like freeze frames captured from an ancient time-lapse movie, Radiant Arc creates a kind of poetic time machine constructed entirely of fragile moments from Earth's prehistoric past.
Selected Awards and Distinctions
For his research, Brixey has received numerous corporate grants and awards including, Apple Computer, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, IBM GmbH, AVID Incorporated, Social Strata, Newport/Klinger Research Corporation, Boxlight Corporation, Silicon Graphics, 3M, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Leica and Hughes Aircraft.
His artistic and scientific work has also been honored with numerous state and national council and foundation awards including; The National Endowment for the Arts, The National Science Foundation, The Smithsonian, Massachusetts Council for the Arts, Michigan Council for the Arts, Kentucky Council for the Arts, and South Carolina Council for the Arts.
In 2003 Brixey received a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship for New Media, past fellows include Bill Viola, Lynn Hershman and Gary Hill. In 2004 Brixey and two DXARTS graduate students Bret Battey and Ian Ingram were selected winners of the Editors Choice Award, in Popular Science Magazine's, "World Design Challenge". The winning entry was awarded for novel use of feedforward ultrasound technology used to produce wide-field active noise cancellation in underwater environments specifically to protect endangered marine mammals. In 2006 Brixey was nominated for CNN and Time Magazine's World Technology Network, and was inducted as a lifetime fellow of WTN, fellows include Char Davies, Jaron Lanier, Jeffrey Shaw, and Eduardo Kac. In 2009 Brixey received the University of Washington's prestigious faculty award in the arts, the Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Chair in Arts and Sciences.
As an artist his installations have been commissioned and exhibited internationally; including Documenta in Kassel, Germany, The Deutscher Kunstlerbund in Karlsruhe, Germany, The Cranbrook Art Museum in Detroit, Michigan, The Contemporary Art Center of Cincinnati, The MIT Museum in Cambridge MA, The International Symposium of Electronic Arts at The Chicago Art Institute, The Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, The first American Design and Architecture Triennial at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, Arizona State University's Institute for Studies in the Arts, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, California, The National Products Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and The Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Oregon.
Brixey lectures widely in the U.S. and abroad on emerging issues intersecting the arts, higher education, culture and media. Keynote addresses at national conferences include NASAD, CAA, NAMAC and SLSA. Critical writing and reviews of his work and thinking are featured in diverse sources, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Cincinnati Inquirer, Chronicle of Higher Education, Scientific American, The Stranger, Guardian, Wired Magazine, Surface Magazine, Art News, Smithsonian World Television, KQED, NPR and MSNBC.