Professor spotlight: Jessica Thompson

Who is Jessica Thompson?

JessImage of Jessica Thompson smilingica Thompson is an Assistant Professor in Hybrid Practise at the University of Waterloo and teaches both in Fine Arts and at the Stratford Campus.

Thompson is also a media artist whose practice investigates urban environments through interactive artworks situated at the intersection of sound, performance and mobile technologies. Her current research investigates the ways that sound reveals spatial and social conditions within cities and how these conditions may be articulated through networked performance, gestural interaction, and data visualization. 

Before coming to Waterloo, Thompson taught courses in sound, media, and urban practice in the Department of Visual Art at Brock University and the department of Media Study at SUNY at Buffalo.

Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Directors at InterAccess, an art gallery, educational facility and production studio dedicated to the creative use of technology, electronic art and new media culture [1].

Where has Jessica Thompson’s work been shown?

Thompson’s work has been shown in exhibitions and festivals such as:

  • The International Symposium of Electronic Art in San Jose, Dubai, Vancouver
  • The Conflux Festival in New York
  • Thinking Metopolis in Copenhagen
  • Visible Cities in Winnepeg
  • Beyond/In Western New Work in Buffalo
  • New Interfaces in Musical Expression in Oslo
  • Audible Edifaces in Hong Kong
  • Artist’s Walks in New York
  • Locus Sonus in Aix-en-Provence [1]

Current Projects

Thompson is currently using digital technologies to look at environmental sound in cities to see if there is any correlation between the environmental sound in cities and social change.

To do this, she uses mobile technologies to capture sound in realtime and  the sounds that are recorded are eventually able to be re-played in the same spaces they were recorded.

Jessica is also working on a hoodie that is connected to the Twitter account of the person who is wearing it. Tweets are generated depending on how and where it is worn.

Notable Artworks

Soundbike (2005)

Jessica Thompson riding the SoundbikeSoundbike is a mobile piece that generates and broadcasts laughter as it is pedaled through environments.

The laughter begins when the bike reaches a cruising speed, and then responds to velocity, enabling the rider to compose anthropomorphized sound—from giggles to hysteria—with his or or body.

Broadcasting sound through the moving body can transform public spaces into social spaces through nonverbal modes of communication. When the piece is engaged, the rider creates a roving broadcast and human counterpoint to the urban soundscape. The speaker works as signifier and is housed on the back of the bike within a bright yellow case, distinguishing the user from other riders and drawing attention from curious cyclists, motorists and passersby [2]. 

Swinging Suitcase (2010)

Lady in black swinging the Sound Suitcase

A portable sound sculpture that generates the sound of a flock of house sparrows.

When the suitcase it picked up, the birds begin to make noice, which calibrate to reflect movement, accelerating and multiplying in response to the gesture of the user.

The vocalizations in the Swinging Suitcase are constructed from sixty different source clips of house sparrows arranged into responses that rance from a range from single chirps to social chatter to scolding.

As the suitcase is swung, the tracks are played in relationship to how the suitcase is moved and for how long.

By bringing birds to different places, especially places where birds should not be, the Swinging Suitcase may initiate dialogues with passersby, create awareness of a site by shifting it’s acoustic ecology, or be used by performative intervention, trickery, or play [3].

Jessica Thompson’s advice for overcoming a creative block

Jessica Thompson stated:

I think creative blocks happen to everybody and you can’t prevent them from happening but if you have good work habits, it’s going to prepare you to work in times that are good and in times that are bad.

We learn through working through problems whether it’s working well or if it’s going badly.

Also, the act of creating involves many ideas happening at once and it can happen in a bunch of different places. Thus, try shifting gears, take a break, do parallel research, because you can solve creative blocks in very different ways.

Although creative blocks are something that is difficult to overcome, it does not become easier, but you do get better at dealing with them.

Artists are not mythological creatures, in fact, they are amongst the most disciplined people -- most working artists are pretty disciplined folks.

Jessica’s Thompson’s advice for current and first year students

University is a major life transition. It’s hard in ways that are not expected and no one does it perfectly.  

For new students, it can be stressful because when you are going into a new university. In some ways it’s like going back to grade nine because there are required couses and new courses. To help with the transition, visit the Student Success Office.

Similarly, the survival skills that got you through high school, may not help you in university. Don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak the ways you study.

Thompson feels that it’s important for students to understand that what they’re doing in their program is valuable. Although it’s hard to figure out where it is immediately valuable, you will use the things you learn in ways you will never expect.

“Be open to being uncomfortable. Chances are if you feel that way, you are probably learning a lot”.

If you are having trouble, talk to faculty because they are on your side, want you to do well, and are there to work with you.

Education is an entrepreneurial adventure. Anything that you can do will you are here or if there is anything that you are curious about, go for it. It is your degree and it is an investment in your future. Stay open to new experiences.


[1] “Jessica Thompson, MFA | Stratford Campus.” University of Waterloo,

[2] Thompson, Jessica. JESSICA THOMPSON,

[3] Thompson, Jessica. “Swinging Suitcase (2011).” Vimeo, 2016,