WIFI Art Uncovers Hidden Worlds

André Vatter Writer

Let’s take a closer look at the omnipresent WIFI radio signal and its ability to serve even as design material in contemporary art. What may at first sound strange is actually a well-established discipline for some artists, be they musicians, fashion designers, or architects. The following are examples of modern-day WIFI art.

Light paintings at nighttime hotspots

The concept of immaterials originated at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in Norway. It’s peculiarity: it works best in the dark. The heart of the project is a four-meter-long rod equipped with 80 LEDs. These LEDs are connected to a radio module, which searches for transmitted signal strengths from specific WIFIs, of the received signal strength input (RSSI). The rod is held just above the ground vertically while its support moves. When barriers such as buildings or trees come between it and the router, the signal strength decreases and thus, fewer LEDs light up. If you combine this with a photographic time exposure, the results are impressive visualizations of network strength and span.

Ping times in Manhattan

Peter Jellitsch, an Austrian artist and architect, is fascinated by immaterials. In his New York apartment he analysed the data throughput of his private WIFI over the course of 45 days. He wrote down the ping times and the up- and down-stream figures. He transferred all of this onto a plastic sheet and gave the data, with the help of the synthetic material called ureol, a spacial, three-dimensional appearance. He calls his completed piece “Bleecker Street Documents”, named after the street in Manhattan where his apartment is located.


The sound of wireless communication

Sniff_Jazzbox is a project created by the Swiss artistic trio “and-or”. It attempts to give this otherwise mute wireless process a voice, or better said, an instrument to play on. Android users can download the free app from Google Play and begin using it right away. While users make their way through the city, the application records the names of the WIFIs and translates them into sounds. Furthermore, users can adjust the timbre and tempo—in other words, WIFI mobile audio art. The results are completely individual music pieces that change as your surroundings, but also your walking or driving speeds, do.


Washington is covered in rainbows

Together with Dr. M. Browning Vogel (astrobiologist and former NASA member), the American artist Nickolay Lamm has tried to make undulating rays coming from WIFI antennae visible in an artistic way. In the photomontage he created from his work, colorful radio spheres flow from the antennae source across the landscape, whereby each architectural barrier leaves behind its clear trace in the vastness of space. WIFI transmits on frequencies between radio waves and microwaves, which means that there are approximately fifteen centimeters between the pulses. Router manufacturers advertise that their networks can reach up to 300 meters. Yet in reality it is more like 20 to 30 meters at best. A piece of paper is enough to shrink the radius, not to mention a house wall.


802.11 Apparel

Jenny Chowdhury is a wearable researcher with an inclination toward beautiful art. She developed the idea for her 802.11 Apparel fashion line a while back. The original idea was to make accessories for clothing that originated from the environment, for example, decorative flowers. Now that WLAN has become an integral part of all aspects of life, the next logical step was to recycle these in a fashionable way. The outcome were jackets, hoodies, and skirts equipped with specially adapted WLAN finder modules that make LEDs light up, depending on the surrounding radio network (photo). Those who like to keep things simpler can purchase an already institutionalized WiFi detector t-shirt.


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