This Architect Is Wearing His Wi-Fi Signal

With a device that translates the strength of wireless Internet signals into a spectrum of visible light, Luis Hernan says he’s exploring the poetry hidden within a banal technology.

There are invisible energy fields all around us. Now, one architect has invented a tool to introduce some of them to the spectrum of visible light. Luis Hernan’s self-portraits show the artist and Newcastle University researcher dancing in a cloud of colorful Wi-Fi signals.


Hernan intended to make his “Kirlian device,” a tool that picks up on Wi-Fi signals and translates them into colored lights, sound a little out-there. It’s named after Semyon Kirlian, a Russian inventor who came up with a mystical, glowing style of photography said to capture the vivid “auras” of torn leaves and other living things. Naturally, Kirlian photography picked up in the ’70s when New Age-types were getting into that sort of thing, even though it turned out that the charged effects had much to do with water content, and not the power of the spirit.

But Hernan’s Kirlian device does pick up on observable frequencies. Originally built with an Arduino board and LED lights, it works by translating Wi-Fi networks into colors. Red indicates the strongest signal, and blue, the weakest. It uses the same technology, he says, as any laptop would to scan for the best network.

“I think there is a hidden poetry in these kinds of signals,” he says. “I’m interested in this idea that they have this secret life–they’re unstable, they’re very difficult to capture. I did that as a way to explore this hidden sense of poetry in banal technology.”

Other researcher-artist types have tried to visualize the fields of invisible Wi-Fi signals around us. Take, for example, Nickolay Lamm’s project on visualizing Wi-Fi networks in cities. Hernan also found that some buildings around Newcastle University had varying degrees of strength and overlapping signals–something he tried to document as he swung the device around in a single photographic exposure.

Now, Hernan’s built a Kirlian device app that anyone can download. If it consistently beams blue, it probably means it’s time to seek a signal from a different location.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.