Yury Gitman is a wireless and emerging-media artist who “engages Wi-Fi, readymade objects, and the culture around wireless to create expressive pieces and art interventions.” By employing a network of Magicbikes, Gitman was one of the first people to use the Internet in the New York subway. At WTF 2004, he demonstrated Magicbike, at times streaming a live video of the conference center’s common area on a screen in the auditorium — from a Magicbike parked outside. What follows is a partial transcript of his demo.
This bike gives out Internet access, and I have a Webcam on it. This is pretty good quality video, and it’s going out over the cell phone network. There’s two-way audio, as well. I went to a psychiatrist two weeks ago, as all New Yorkers should, and I was diagnosed with Adult ADD. This presentation will be ADD friendly.
I’m an active member of NYCWireless. The related Public Internet Project is basically a public wardrive of every street. You start to see the grassroots, bottoms-up infrastructure. There are still going to be holes. That turns into semiotics and cultural theory. There are two different types of wireless culture. We talk about W-Fi, which is based on open spectrum and open standards. There’s a sense of inclusivity, Cell phone networks are characterized by licensed spectrum and proprietary standards. There’s an exclusivity to it.
The wireless euphoria is based on when our handsets start to act like computers. The idea was to take this artifact used for women’s and labor movements, and put the tower and repeater onto the bicycle. About a year ago, I started figuring out how to do this. Because this is a bicycle, it’d be great to give access to underserved areas and communities. That is where the bikes exist. The overlap of bicycle culture and computer culture is interesting.
There’s an antenna on the front and an antenna on the back. It’s just an Internet connection. Everything we do at home we can do on our bicycles, we just have to find different interfaces for it. This can fit on any bicycle, and inside there’s an iBook. It gets its access from other hotspots and other bicycles and then gives it to other bicycles.
This came out of an art and technology area and has been exhibited as an art object at arts events, Critical Mass, and political demonstrations. I’ve done a warbike project that left a cookie crumb-path that showed where the demonstration was located. I’ve been trying to outflank the New York telephone companies to give free Internet access to the subways. We sent the first email from the subway to Mayor Bloomberg. I’m trying to make free Wi-Fi cool. That’s sort of superficial, but I guess that’s what you get with a semiotics background. You try to make propaganda not look like propaganda.