Gaze and sound activated dresses by Ying gao

Short Introduction to Ying Gao

“It’s really more about a poetic concept of uncertainty than about the technology itself. For me, technology is a way of making my idea visible,”

Ying Gao uses the phrase “City Mouse” to describe herself, as she is deeply inspired by the city’s non-physical elements such as air, sound, noise, light, movement, and the human’s gaze.


(No)where (Now)here

(No)where (Now)here is an interactive art piece, presenting two dresses that react to the human’s gaze. This means that the project relies entirely on the spectator’s gaze for the slight movements of photo luminescent thread.

Inspired by the essay entitled “Esthétique de la disparition” (The aesthetic of disappearance), by Paul Virilio (1979), Ying Gao explores the idea of absence/presence and of disappearance in this project.


















































































Incertitude represents the individual who worries about the future, thus, living in a divided present. It is a both a complicated and abstract work, where the clothing reacts only to the human voice.

This interactive garment is made of PVDF plastic, dressmaker pins, and electronic devices. The metallic fabric fringe is able to sense and respond to the wearer’s voice. Interacting with its environment, the motion generated by sound creates a wave-like ripple in the garment, causing it to contract and expand the entire outfit.

























































While Ying Gao works on her idea of creating the sound activated clothing, whereby both garments are activated by the spectator’s voice, she had to work with the engineering of the sensors carefully, to capture specific frequency of the human voice apart from the general sound. One problem that occurred during the making of the garment was that the sensor could not react to all types of voices. Ironically, an example of a voice that the sensor could not react to was Ying Gao’s voice, but that did not deter her from making her work a success.


All in all, I feel that Ying Gao’s works relies heavily on the audience’s participation. If there are no audience to stimulate the sensors with their gaze and voice, the work will appear meaningless. Therefore interaction is a very important factor in the invention of wearable technology. Similarly, the choice of material plays an equally important role in both function and appearance, such as the dressmaker pins which gives us the impression of a prickly armour – tense when the garment contracts and alarm when it expands like a puffer fish.


Bruce Moravchik, NOAA. Credit: Islands in the Stream Expedition 2002. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.
Bruce Moravchik, NOAA. Credit: Islands in the Stream Expedition 2002. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.


Open source technology has not been used directly with the garments, but used to document and distribute the designer’s idea and images of her creation globally. This allows us to gain new knowledge from sources and include them in our research work when we search on relevant topics online.


Adapted from

Mini Lesson: Ying Gao




Author: Ong Xin Hong

Painting is not just a mere documentation of what you see.

5 thoughts on “Gaze and sound activated dresses by Ying gao”

  1. Amazing work from the artist and very elaborate research done by you! The voice-activated garment is like a living organism. Amazing! But I don’t think I understand the gaze-activated one. How does the garment detect the spectator’s gaze?

    1. Hey Yuhao! That is a really good question! In all the research that I have made on Ying gao, the closest I was brought to on the detection of the human gaze was through the use of eye-tracking devices. You may want to research on eye-tracking devices if you want to know more about it. I have included a rather profound (at least to me) pdf on Eye Tracking Technology, by Meagan Fischer, taken from at the end of the page if you might be interested to read it up.

  2. The documentation and presentation of research is very well done. However, I agree with Yuhao: it is not clear how the gaze-activated wearables works. I think the idea is quite interesting, but how does the human gaze operate or activate the response of the work?

    Interesting that you brought up the problem of voice frequency. Obviously the male voice has different frequencies than the female: I know of another work called Soundings by Robert Rauschenberg, in which voices activate lights according to the vocal frequencies. Here, the artist took this into account to enable the audience to control the installation according to whether they were male or female.

  3. Here it is onother example of gaze activated wearable project by Behnaz Farahi ”Caress of the Gaze ”
    and how it works:
    A camera lens smaller than 3 mm detects a watcher’s stare, and a computer algorithm maps exactly where they’re looking. Spines attached to that spot then stiffen and sway.

    We need to think about how this sort of technology is changing our notions of our bodies and our notions of ourselves.

    Behnaz Farahi

    Though the overall look is that of quills on a porcupine under threat, Farahi actually modeled the morphology on fish and snake scales (each one is attached to a flexible mesh), and the movement on an innate human reaction: goose bumps.

    “It’s really exploring the logic of our skin. Our skin is constantly in motion: it expands, contracts, and changes its shape based on various stimuli — temperature, moisture, or even feelings such as excitement or anger.”

    1. Wow it is rather scary to learn about the existence of a camera that is smaller than 3mm. It makes me feel as if voyeurism is on the rise with the rise of such cameras. Hahaha

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