This article aims to respond to some issues regarding my PhD project, namely random/non-random and scale. These issues reflect the boundaries between disciplines and imply that the results of the interdisciplinary study are restricted to the researcher’s background. In defining “interdisciplinary”, it should be apparent that the degree subjects collaborate with each other.
I visualized Wi-Fi networks from the BSSIDs (12-digit hexadecimal codes, almost equivalent to MAC addresses) of Wi-Fi access points and converted them to colour charts. Wi-Fi BSSIDs are almost unique and as such I viewed them as the components of city-specific landscapes, similar to the trees in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. Because of the unique patterns created by the Wi-Fi BSSIDs for each specific city, it is impossible to duplicate the urban landscapes of other cities unless the exact BSSIDs are borrowed. Most of the audience questioned me on why I did not choose IP addresses and convert those to urban landscapes, since BSSIDs seem to be composed of random numbers. This involved two issues:
(1) Is a BSSID a set of random numbers?
(2) Were the Wi-Fi access points distributed randomly?
The answer to each issue is “No.”
The first question is really easy to answer. From a technical standpoint, a BSSID is composed of 12-digit hexadecimal code; the first 6-digit code is the vendor’s code and the last 6-digit code is the serial number used in the vendor’s product line. Therefore, the composition of a BSSID is based on a specified naming system, so it is not a random code.
The second question is comparatively complicated, and my answer rests on the following claim: “The material distributions, constructions, and remains made by human beings are not random.”
Habitus, proposed by French anthropologist/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, is a specific lifestyle that people used to practice consciously and unconsciously. It separates people into different social groups. In marketing terms, products have particular target groups. If people have particular shopping behaviours, how can one assume that the distribution of Wi-Fi access points in houses is random? To clarify this issue, there are six ways to analyze this topic:
(1) The distribution of shops that sell Wi-Fi access points;
(2) The commodity of Wi-Fi in these shops;
(3) The type of customer: organizations or individuals;
(4) The zones in cities;
(5) Public versus private Wi-Fi access points; and
(6) The global economy and vendors’ market strategy.
For archaeologists, any material remains should be recorded in a grid system to confirm their coordinates. Even though one might not see any direct connection between objects, they are still connected in their cultures. Donald Judd and other minimalists presented colours randomly to avoid any pre-existing concepts that could affect their artworks, and by doing so they created new styles/habitus in their works. This leads to another issue: scale. In isolating one Wi-Fi access point from others in cities, one might fail to see its connections/relation. This does not mean that Wi-Fi access points are distributed randomly; rather, it means that they cannot be located in the appropriate scale. Here, scale relates to “concept” rather than a viewable range seen in artwork. This stimulates the next question discussed in the 1960s and 1970s: “dematerialization” in conceptual art.
The connection between Wi-Fi access points has two meanings:
(1) The physical connection via wire/wireless; and
(2) The distribution of Wi-Fi access points.
The “relation can be interchanged with” adopts “relation” to imply the second meaning to avoid confusion. The relation between Wi-Fi access points in my project was presented metaphorically based on house societies proposed by Levi-Strauss. His studies on house societies were easy to confuse with families/homes because he studied kinship via houses. If one is not familiar with the study of house societies, one might think “house” is just a building and “family” is its content. Actually, Levi-Strauss studied physical “houses” in terms of kinship. Houses in those societies located an individual’s social position and family membership; “eating food from the same oven” or “living in the same house” constructed individuals’ identities rather than blood-relationships. Physical houses have both tangible (buildings, etc.) and intangible (house name, address, etc.) wealth that can last through generations. In this context, houses have features similar to Wi-Fi access points, as in “living in the same building to share resources” and “internet connection Wi-Fi APs and social position in houses.”
Similar to Wi-Fi access points, one can say that the bricks for houses were assembled randomly; however, attention should be paid to how the bricks were bought, delivered, and constructed in a social/economical context. Please allow me to repeat: “The material distributions, constructions, and remains made by human beings are not random.”
Returning to the subject of art, I needed to decide which medium could best present the relation itself, rather than the medium’s traits. First, I converted the following three categories metaphorically:
(1) Wi-Fi access points are houses
(2) Wi-Fi users are cyborgs
(3) Wi-Fi BSSID as colours
The metaphors linked each subject in a bigger conceptual network to present a macro scale. Then I converted BSSIDs to colours via subtracting six-by-six strings to create colour grids, like the works of Josef Albers that explored the human perception of colours. His works stimulated the audience to be aware of their perception, making them different machines. I expanded his concept to make the audience aware of Wi-Fi users’ machine parts via the regular orders of BSSIDs that were produced by machine codes. Finally, I chose web pages, print, and other media to reproduce my work to dematerialize it and highlight its concept. In this hybrid-media area, the media, such as print and oil, should be redefined in great-scale artworks. One medium is one reference that should be considered in a holistic view. Actually, conceptual artists embody that ideas/thoughts/concepts are the main “media” in their works and other methods are used to support their works.
Finally, in Google Maps, one can look at different scales of one area by zooming in and out on the map. In that way, I was seeking a similar viewpoint. Thus, artists can create an artwork with multiple-scale media and subjects, but not size, to present broader issues and reveal the unpredictable possibilities in art.