The Kite Knows Where I Go

An active exploration to trace the sensation and perception of awe through flying a kite.

The kite was a medium to trace awe, an emotion that usually leads me to a diminished self-perception and a sense of connection to the larger part of the world. Pulling the string to seize the tension against the wind, and staring at the kite as a roaming dot in the vast sky, I connected with the kite and tried to communicate with a larger power separate from myself. Through active research, practices to deduce the perception of awe, and experimentations with the sound, light, and interactive installation to externalize the sensation, and embody the awe experience in a poetic and situated environment, I reconstruct the process of flying a kite to acquire awe and a more intimate relationship between self and the surrounding space, time, and people.

A solar-powered kite was made to generate music and respond to the tension of control. I invite people to fly the kite with me, from the sun’s embrace to the moon’s dance, until we shimmer into the sky.

Year: 2023
Material: Electronics, Plastics, Paint
Sound Consultation: Miguel Moreno
Electronics, Fabrication, Sound Design: Jingyao Shao

ITP thesis presentation (and special thanks)
Presentated at Currents Art and Technology Festival 2023

Videography Credit: Viola He 

Often associated with an intense and profound emotional experience of wonder, amazement, elevation, joy, and even fear, awe is a complex emotion defined by the sense of perceived vastness and a need for accommodation, according to a prototypical model given by psychologists Keltner and Haidt [1] in 2003. Vastness refers to anything that is experienced as being much larger than itself. When the experience of something vast cannot be explained or understood within the current mental structure, the need to expand the mental framework occurs. Such needs, whether being satisfied or not, along with the perceived vastness, lead to the experience of awe.

Awe has to be presented and experienced within a fitting context and frames.In Donna Haraway’s theory [2] of situated knowledge, she challenged the traditional universal objectivity in science and acknowledges differential positions shaped by specific contexts. She stated that “feminist embodiment resists fixation and is insatiably curious about the webs of differential positioning”, and to better understand the world and the science, “translation is always interpretive,critical,and partial”. Due to their popularity as toys, kites often evoke childhood memories. Historically and personally, kites mark the passage of time. During the experience of flying the kite, memories of lineages and childhood are evoked, drifting between expansive narratives and intimate moments. In serving as an anchor point, a focal point on a temporal and spatial scale, it allows time to shift, creating the illusion of timelessness. In essence, it is a frame of reference of awe, which contributes to an expanded perception of time in the present moment. [3] In actively employing the interpretations and meanings of kites as a frame of reference, this project allows people to reflect on the relationship to time and space in kite-flying.

To experience awe, we have to rely on our bodies, employing all sensory faculties to feel and interpret the environment. Awe is rooted in the bodily collaboration with the environment; it is a process of sensing and acting on it. The classical embodied paradigm of cognitive science refers to the mind as an organ of environmentally situated control without internal representation. The “situated” cognition means that the “cognitive activity takes place in the context of a real-world environment, and it inherently involves perception and action” [4]. It emphasizes the physical body and the bodily interaction with the environment.
The medium of sound contributes to the construction of the atmosphere of embodied experience. The result is a fluid and volumetric representation of the space. When the string is pulled to fly the kite, the tension passes to the body through the finger and the tactile feedback is sensed. Throughout the piece, the sound reacts to the choreographed movement between the body and the kite. By placing sound into a site-specific, and interactive experience tied to bodily coordination with the wind, the listening environment is emphasized and sound is placed into a situated sonic practice. Scholar Gascia Ouzounian [5] wrote “Situated sonic practices take into consideration not only aspects of the built environment, architectures and social spaces, but also the temporal dimension of space as expressed through memory and history”. By employing a site-specific interactive sound experience combined with cultural references of kites, I understand the experience of awe “technically, socially, and physically”, in a feminist embodiment approach as posited by Haraway. [2] I would argue that to interpret awe, a grand and overarching concept, using an intimate and personal experience of kite-flying, is to take the situated approach of a view from below, and to avoid the “god trick” of “seeing everything from nowhere”. [2]

Flying a kite is an interaction with the environment and requires the presence of wind. To launch a kite, one must put their entire body into the wild and sense the wind. It’s a practice of listening with the body, attenuating to the surroundings with the cells and skins. To fly the kite it also requires an open ground, where the giant sky is entirely disclosed and occupies the visual fields. It forces one to look up to face the grandeur and power. Pulling the string is a gesture to regain control by pushing the body directly against the wind. The process of learning to control is the process of building trust with the body and the environment. In the embodied and situated journey to trace the awe, we reacquire the body and embrace the surrounding time, space and people.

[1] Keltner, Dacher, and Jonathan Haidt. “Approaching Awe, a Moral, Spiritual, and Aesthetic Emotion.” Cognition and Emotion 17, no. 2 (January 1, 2003): 304.
[2] Haraway, Donna. “‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’.” In Space, Gender, Knowledge: Feminist Readings. Routledge, 1997.
[3] Rudd, Melanie, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker. “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being.” Psychological Science 23, no. 10 (October 1, 2012): 1130–36.
[4] Wilson, Margaret. “Six Views of Embodied Cognition.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9, no. 4 (December 1, 2002): 626.
[5] Ouzounian, Gascia. “Embodied Sound: Aural Architectures and the Body.” Contemporary Music Review 25, no. 1–2 69–79. (February 1, 2006):

This project is made possible, in part, with funds from the Media Arts Assistance Fund, a regrant partnership of NYSCA and Wave Farm, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

@Jingyao Shao 2024