The project was inspired when Kawalek became aware of a museum exhibit by new media artist Jeffrey Shaw. The exhibit, Kung Fu Motion, used motion capture and other technology to map a young kung fu master’s moves onto a lifelike avatar of his long-deceased great-grandfather, the revered Master Lam Sai Wing.
“In this way, the singular style of kung fu originated by Lam Sai Wing, and in some sense the master himself, were brought back to life on film,” Kawalek said. “Though still in the very early stages, Entanglement is evolving into a play about science, technology, memory and heritage. Quantum entanglement takes us into the remarkable future of technology, while the intangible cultural heritage of kung fu offers inextricable links to the past.”
Kawalek was fascinated by the museum exhibit, especially after learning that the words “kung fu” carry, among other things, the connotation of energy and time. Additional links emerged through discussions with Tian Zhong, a PME assistant professor and STAGE collaborator, who has been doing research on a quantum phenomenon called time-energy entanglement.
Zhong said the exhibit is a powerful demonstration of the type of connections STAGE wants to draw. “The avatar represents a collapsing of time, spanning two generations through movement. This is exactly the essence of time-energy entanglement, so we thought this was a perfect way to inform an audience about the concepts of quantum physics,” he said.
This past summer, the STAGE group worked with The Hong Kong Jockey Club University of Chicago Academic Complex | The University of Chicago Francis and Rose Yuen Campus to travel to Hong Kong to research kung fu and quantum science. Hosted by Shaw’s lab in the City University of Hong Kong School of Creative Media, students and faculty met with Shaw as well as Master Oscar Lam, Lam Sai Wing’s great-grandson, and Hing Chao, a leading advocate for the preservation of Chinese martial arts.
Throughout the Hong Kong workshop, research, kung fu lessons, and brainstorming and motion capture sessions provided compelling material for developing Entanglement, Kawalek said. For example, Zhong and the STAGE group had a fruitful discussion with Chao about the role of energy in martial arts. When Zhong raised questions about scientific concepts like conservation, Chao offered an impromptu demonstration of forces specific to different martial arts, such as the linear punches of boxing, versus the arcing shapes of many methods of attack in other types of Chinese martial arts.