During the 2013 - 2014 academic year, the Library was the location for a site-specific digital exhibition created by students Raymond Douglas and Chris Silva. A network device that enabled Library visitors in the vicinity to view art on their laptops was installed at the top of the circular stairs on the second floor of Davidson Library. Students were encouraged to submit their artwork for inclusion in the exhibition. The wireless network was visible as Art Network 1).
Interview with the creators of the Wireless Art Network in 2013.
Q: Tell me your names and majors.
A: I’m Raymond Douglas. I’m a 4th year art studio major currently finishing up the honors program. I mostly do sculpture, a little bit of digital media, and photography.
And I’m Chris Silva. I’m a graduating MFA student. I mainly deal in performance art, video, photography, and alternative practice.
Q: What would you call the Wireless Art Network? An installation? An exhibit?
A: It’s a format or a platform. It’s an alternative space for viewing art. Most people will go into museums or galleries and view work that is flat on walls or 3-dimensional sculptures. The Wireless Art Network opens up virtual space for people to explore art physically. We have these boxes that are not connected to the Internet or to each other, so people have to go to a physical location to experience an intimate experience.
When you’re on your phone, it’s a personal experience, but everyone’s sharing the large web of information that’s the Internet. Whereas in a gallery you’re sharing a small environment with other people. We merged the two worlds, so you have a physical location experienced intimately on your own device (cell phone), and you’re never really sure if someone next to you is experiencing it or not. It’s meant to be a bridge between those two things.
Q: Tell me more about the discovery process. How would someone find the network?
A: Just like when you’re opening up your laptop at Starbucks and you need to access the Internet, you see a list of SSIDs or network identifiers, like “AT&T.” Ours is going to say “Wireless Art Network” or “click for art.” The curious are going to click on it and a window pops up just like at any hotspot, but with an art piece. Anything you can experience on the Internet, such as video, html, or web-based platforms, can be experienced through the Wireless Art Network. It is all browser-based. The difference with this hotspot is there is only one destination. You try to go to any other website and you will be redirected to this one page. The page states explicitly what is going on. It’s meant to pique people’s curiosity but at the same time reassure them that it’s not something malicious. Listed on the page are the locations of the other networks.
Q: How many boxes are there right now and where are they?
A: There are three–one in the Library, one in the Arts building, and one in the UCen. In Davidson Library, you will find one at the top of the circular stairwell on the second floor. The UCen device is outside of Nicoletti’s, where they took down those large TVs and there are outlets already high up on the walls. The Arts building one is located near the gallery. We plan on making small posters to inform people of the locations.
Q: Will each location have different art works?
A: Yes. In one of the photo classes in the Art Department, students have been creating location-specific works, like of the Library or Storke Plaza. We are going to disperse those images to devices, so that if you go to the UCen, for example, a device will be set up that can connect you to media concerned with that physical space. It gives users an incentive to move around and keep exploring. We decided not to have the works connected to a larger network so that the art is connected to a specific space most of the time.
Q: So you’re soliciting student art work?
A: Absolutely. Under each art work is an email address to contact us with submissions and questions. Also the project itself and the system itself is the work. Not everything in art has to be an end product like a painting or something to put on these devices. Creating the networks and the networks themselves are the work.
Q: Did you run into any resistance from anyone about installing the devices?
A: No. The first person we contacted was Kevin Schmidt, who’s head of campus IT, and he made suggestions of how we could deploy it. Once we had his blessing, everyone was very accepting. We’ve just been asking people to use an outlet somewhere because we need to plug in.
Most of the support in the past couple of months has come from the Library—from Susan Moon in the Arts Library and May Chang, Associate University Librarian for Information Technology and Digital Initiatives. They were both very excited about the collaboration. The project is creating bridges: between undergraduate and graduate students, between departments.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of the project and these networks on campus?
A: To gain more recognition as a usable and appealing format.
This is so much more accessible than a typical gallery. It’s becoming simpler and cheaper to do every month—it’s pretty reliable and low cost, low power. The overhead costs are minimal. The devices just have to be plugged into an outlet and they can be deployed anywhere—outside, inside, in a car. Since they’re not connected, it’s an infinitely scalable system. There could be one or one hundred devices on campus. It will obviously get better as it grows in size, but we could keep one with us at all times in our car and deploy it last minute in a café or in a gallery. So it creates a space within a space, but that space is only accessible through the digital devices that we keep in our pockets.
I think this is something that a lot of libraries, museums, and educational spaces will be interested in. If you don’t want to put up a hundred posters announcing everything, a wireless network is a very practical and efficient placeholder. It’s an alternative way of dispersing information, and in our case the information is the art. Data visualization is another set of art that the faculty here deal with all the time and it might be nice to have that data visualization accessible through a virtual space.
Everything’s stored on a SD card similar to a camera’s, that range in size from 8-32GB. So there are no limitations to what we can put on there, as long as it can be handled by a computer. You’re limited only by your device, not ours. Ours is just delivering the content.