While our ancestors gathered around the campfire, the hearth, or the watering hole to tell stories and gather information, today we gather around the screen. But behind the screen is the constant flow of Wi-Fi radio signals, our relationship with which artist Tega Brain, one of the minds beind Smell Dating, explores in her new series as Eyebeam's artist-in-residence, Being Radiotropic. The Austrailian artist and SFPC teacher applies her philosophy of "eccentric engineering" to three wireless routers, intentionally interrupting the flow of data depending on elements of the natural world.
"Each router provides an open wireless network that misbehaves and functions in unexpected and eccentric ways," Brain explains in the project description. The first, An Orbit, waxes and wanes with the moon, so wi-fi flows in and out of a home like the tide. Open Flame cuts off the internet if the integrated candle goes out, harkening back to a time when it was impossible to read at night without candle light. The Woods is a hybrid router / house plant, which inserts itself into the browsing experience if, for example, it isn't watered frequently enough. Don't take care of your router, and Instagram fills up with sultry pics of leafy greens. This is one of the more complex routers, executing a "man-in-the-middle attack" on the network to replace all the .jpgs and .pngs—talk about a life hack. "Eventually this particular router will become obsolete (which is a good thing!) as the web becomes encrypted (meaning you cant just see all the traffic)," Brain tells The Creators Project. "I made these to explore how network vulnerabilities or inefficiencies might be exploited for an organism such as a plant," she continues. "So rather than trying to reveal these oddities in the scariest possible way where the joke ends up being on the user ( as is so common in the media arts), I wanted to reveal them as opportunities for rethinking our relationship to the world."
Being that the first question when entering a new apartment is, "What's the Wi-Fi password?", the humble router is a great subject for Brain's artful questions and experiments. Many have argued that our reliance on technology is dangerous, but what more evidence do you need than the mini existential crisis that happens in between your connection going out and finally getting up to reset the damn thing? Perhaps, it could be more natural if the internet faded with the moon. It would be nice to escape constant temptation to scroll Facebook without resorting to internet rehab.
Learn more about Being Radiotropic on Tega Brain's website.