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Interview of Yury Gitman

By Rhizome


Yury Gitman
is a designer, inventor, an award-winning artist (Noderunner received an Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Net Vision in 2003) and i owe him one of my first posts on the blog. It was a story about Magicbike, the bicycle turned mobile WiFi hotspot for up to 250 users in a radius of 30 meters indoors and 100 meters outdoors. A network of his Magicbikes allowed him to be one of the first people to use the Internet from inside the New York subway. Yury is also teaching at the Parsons Design + Technology Program and last year, he opened a product design company called Banana Design Lab.

Last year, you opened Banana Design Lab, a product design company focusing on lifestyle designs to entertain the soul. Do you think there's a lack of such products on the market?

Are you being sarcastic? "Products" in my mind don't have soul by design. They are created to make money not art. For the most part, when I walk into a store I see products that basically waste your life energy. What I mean is that they distract us and divert us from meaningful experiences, to the extent that our souls are softly hushed into silence. That's a sweeping statement. But I think what happens is a combination of bad design mixing with all the difficulties of the product development cycle. Still, products could and sometime do have a soul.

"Art" has a soul, right? If one wants to make artifacts with a soul one should make art, right? Products are mass produced. On the contrary, art is traditionally thought of as original works or one-offs. But, why put boundaries on things? It's so artificial, these boundaries. At the end of day "products" go out into the world in the hundreds and in the thousands. People take them home and kids grow up with them. Meanwhile, a tiny handful of people actually get "art" artifacts in their homes. I think the higher calling for me is to reach a lot of people. The exhibition space I'm conceiving for is a store shelf. For some reason it seems admirable, I'm much more intrigued by that.

When it comes down to it, as an artist, you make what you want to see in the world. If it was already in the world there wouldn't be any incentive in creating it in the first place. I want Banana Design to be a small but innovative industrial design company that blurs the lines of art and product.

Are you working on new projects after my beating heart?

Last week I just launched a net.art work commissioned by Turbulence, My Beating Blog. It's an experiment with the near future of blogging, in which I infuse increasingly commonplace biofeedback technology with blogging. It's a simple experiment where I'm anticipating the crafty convergence of a set of technologies before they actually fuse in the mainstream. I think we'll see blogs like that become more common place in the next couple of years. Doing work like this, with emerging mediums, often gestates into insights about the expressive capabilities of these mediums.

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My Beating Heart, is a high tech "toy" [for lack of a better word] that calms you down faster than modern-day pharmaceuticals. I set out to make an experience that gets people into meditation. I wanted to make something high-tech and cool [meaning it has cultural cache] that actually helps people become more aware of themselves and their surroundings. That notion sounds like the anti-thesis of techie gadgets, but I really like this incongruity. In any case, what turned out is I think close to the mark. It doesn't really inspire people to meditate per se, but it does relax people, tickle their sensibilities, and make them feel warm inside. It gives me a chance to mix my experience as a yoga and mediation practitioner with electronic art and contemporary design. That's really one of the directions I'm trying to move my work into.

So are you a designer or an artist? Both? Where do you draw the line between both disciplines?

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