Go virtual biking with York multimedia wizard Don Sinclair


Above: Don Sinclair with daughter Stephanie

An Internet art project conceived and created by Don Sinclair, professor of multimedia in York’s Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program (FACS), is featured in the innovative New Media category of the 17th annual Images Festival in Toronto.

Sinclair’s project, Variations/Variantes, is an interactive visual interface that prompts the user to explore ideas of place from the seat of a bicycle. It is one of a selection of online works curated by York alumna, writer and Web artist Caitlin Fisher (PhD ‘00), a sessional professor who teaches cultural theory in FACS.

Right and below, right: Scenes from Sinclair’s interface

Billed as Canada’s largest independent media festival, showcasing international excellence and innovation both on and off the screen, the festival began April 15 and runs to April 24. For more information about the festival, click here.

Variations/Variantes draws on a database containing about 25,000 images, 80,000 Global Positioning System (GPS) data points and hourly weather data from three local stations. Sinclair collected this data while cycling in and around Toronto over 15 months, from January 2002 to March 2003. He carried a GPS receiver and a digital camera set in time-lapse mode to capture images at one-minute intervals while he rode.

Taking its cue from Sinclair’s experiences as a year-round, all-weather cyclist, the interface provides ways of navigating through different dimensions that together define the experience of place. For a cyclist – and in the Variations “dataspace” – place is a holistic concept, referring not only to location, but also factors such as wind, temperature and bicycle speed. Sinclair says you’re in a certain “place” when you’re travelling at 50 km/hr or riding into a 30 km/hr headwind or when the temperature is -10C.

Variations/Variantes allows even the diehard couch potato to get a sense of what it’s like behind the handlebars of a bike. To find out more about the interface, click here. Choose your preferred language (English or French) and resolution, and click on the image. Then select any of the images presented on the new screen to explore the multi-dimensional “dataspace” created by the interaction of all the variations of the captured data. Travelling through the dataspace, you’ll encounter melded experiences crossing through day and night, road and off-road, solo and group riding, a variety of weather conditions and all four seasons.

When you click OK, the journey through the dataspace ends with a final enlarged image. As seasoned cyclists will attest, it’s all about the trip, not the destination. “It’s the ecstasy of the journey you long for,” said Sinclair.

An avid cyclist for 25 years, Sinclair clocks up more than 10,000 km annually, commuting daily to his teaching job at York and riding with his bicycle club on weekends. He has toured all over North America and internationally, in Norway, Portugal, Eastern Europe, Greece and Italy. Many of those trips were family affairs with his partner and children, often on a tandem bike and towing a toddler in a trailer.

What’s next for this digital inventor and athlete? Taking the concept of Variations/Variantes a step further, Sinclair wants to construct a wearable computer that will coordinate and integrate the data from the camera and the GPS. This summer he’ll be at the Banff Centre in Alberta, where he’s been awarded a Creative Residency. There, in collaboration with York alumna, choreographer/dancer Karen Duplisea (BFA ’77, MA ’01) he will develop an interactive work exploring the interface between movement and sound, and the additional layers of meaning evolving through their interaction.

Will he be taking his bicycle to Banff? You bet.

About Don Sinclair

Don Sinclair designed the multimedia courses currently offered in the Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program at York, where he has taught since 1984. He has worked extensively as a consultant on multimedia authoring projects in dance, music, cultural studies and film, and as a programmer/researcher in artificial intelligence. Having used networks in all of his multimedia teaching at York, his current work in education involves exploring high-bandwidth communications using the Internet for online learning in a project called VITAL.