Wi-Fi Shamanism - June 14, 2011

Filed under: Programming

Continuing the work with Wi-Fi-based art mentioned earlier. I’ve been interested in taking use of invisible information and create a system to convert radio wave signals into site specific color field paintings. The colors and sizes are determined by the Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 protocol data retrieved such as like rssi, channel number, cipher, authentication type, average signal and so on. I chose to use Wi-Fi signals because of its narrow range of connectivity and great source of variation in urban environments.

I like to work with this invisible information because it is something I understand and find fascinating. When I studied computer science I always liked to imagine visualizing the unperceivable data being tossed and twisted around in series of logic go-merry-rounds. If one could imagine seeing the vast amount of radio, Wi-Fi, radiation, and satellite signals going about in the streets and living rooms as light, we would be embraced in an amazingly bright vibrancy. With this in mind, my intention was to only open up little windows for us to peek in, because the whole would be too much to comprehend.

The image above is an excerpt taken from outside Oslo Parliament Building in Norway (Stortinget). Below is a compiled image of a series of exposures showing measured Wi-Fi signals in a showroom at Gallery Podium in Oslo. I project the visualized signals on top of the very spot I did the measuring.

You can really see the great variations when comparing measures from corners and open space, high and low, near and far from windows and doorways. You could call it site specific, but this is more of a device or tool that creates cut-throughs which reveal what is going on at a specific spot in space. Like a mirror is an image reflecting only its surroundings, my program reflects only what is at the exact place it is executed.

Below is the same shots done with the lights off. This isolates the signal topography and creates a seemingly random yet deductive series of light disks.

The visual theme of these disks is of course designed to end up looking like disks with a controlled boundary of randomness. I described the premises their visual outcome more closely in this earlier post. I have experimented with various styles from graffiti- and kaleidoscope aesthetics to stained glass windows seen in cathedrals. I landed on simplicity in order to recognize variety and still get a feeling of which networks are close and which networks are far away. I like the idea targets representing each spot measured.

On the other hand, looking at these disks, I cannot help myself from thinking of modernist painters such as Kenneth Noland and his circles, color inventions by Wassily Kandinsky or even the street light and propeller abstractions from the Paris celebrating painter Robert Delaunay. I find the latter being quite suitable as I sort of celebrate the inventions of the invisible landscapes (of the modern).

I call the project Wi-Fi Shamanism in the lack of a better name. Shamans perform a variety of functions depending upon their respective cultures. The shaman is usually a person who is an expert in keeping together the multiple codes through which a complex belief system appears. In this case I play the role as a shaman no more than the fact that I use my understanding of the (radio wave) protocols floating about in the atmosphere. I use my skill as a programmer to express meaning from these codes trough light and color.

Some of you might have already seen Light painting Wi-Fi by the interdisciplinary research team from the Institute of Design at Oslo School of Architecture and Design in Norway. The similarity of mapping Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GSM, 3G and RFID fields is obvious, but what really inspired me for this project was when I came over some very interesting photos from the Chernobyl disaster taken by Igor Kostin.

The photograph above (credit: National Geographic ) taken on the roof on top of the reactor showed signs of radiation in the bottom of the film. The radiation was invisible, but the sense of it was so clear that the “bio-robots” working there for only 45 seconds couldn’t feel their own teeth while shoveling radioactive debris. You can clearly see the traces of the camera reel coming from below the photographer’s camera. The idea that there is so much more than the eye can see inspired me in this direction.