On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog: HANS ULRICH OBRIST in Conversation with Artist-Turned-App Developer JON NASH

SLIGHT is an app designed by London-based artist Jon Nash which allows for completely anonymous geolocated commenting. No sign up, login, or username required. The resulting pins reveal a peculiar mix of personal in-jokes (“spencer is looking fiiiiine”), evaluative commentary (“None of these paintings were made by women”) and general snide (“SURROUNDED BY IDIOTS”), and has since become a favorite among the LA art scene. 032c‘s Contributing Editor Hans Ulrich Obrist spoke with Nash about the project.

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Hans Ulrich Obrist: We should start at the beginning, what was the epiphany, how did you come into art?

Jon Nash: As a kid it was the only thing I could do. I think this is the same for a lot of people, then you get older and begin to understand the history and the discourse. I had studied photography and was writing a lot about performance and narrative in image making. That is where my practice came from.

Describe Slight.

Slight-5It’s an app that lets people leave anonymous comments at their exact location. These appear as pins on a map. It can be used to talk with the people around you or just add thoughts or notes to places. Anonymity is a big part of it but it’s more about organising information by location instead of social group. We’ve described this as the long tail of social media. Instead of one network with millions of users we have millions of pins in different locations with smaller groups of people. This makes things more fluid, people can now move physically through different networks. The Baldassari readings in LA that you curated were accompanied by a lively meta conversation. If you search for the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Downtown and click the green pin you can see this. Most of the users are in the US, Europe and Russia but today we saw our first pin in Iraq and a few days ago someone left a House of Cards quote at 10 Downing Street.

How does one make such an invention? Is it a collaboration, did it come to you all of a sudden on a rainy Wednesday?

I was at a conference watching a handsome couple present an LED light that was going to ‘save Africa’. It had an awkward quality that Lucy Chinen described as “Wifi Humanitarianism”. A friend was sat a few rows in front of me and we kept looking at each other in disbelief. In that place at that time there was a conversation that was missing. Hundreds of people must have been thinking the same thing but had no way of combining their thoughts. Then in October I met Michael Petruzzo, who is an artist and developer. He had built some great writing tools and when we started talking through the idea it just made more and more sense. Michael’s studio at the time was in Lincoln Heights and the exterior wall would get tagged then painted over by the City then re-tagged. This is when we started looking into the structure of LA gangs and the way territory is marked. Our collaboration took Slight from a vague idea to what we have today.

Ways Beyond the Internet” was the panel we did at DLD in Munich. I called it Ways Beyond the Internet, but a lot of people call it post-Internet art, so maybe it’s interesting if you talk a little bit about that moment. Is that a group you feel part of?

Slight-2At that time there was this idea in people’s minds that rapid changes in communication technologies would have some profound effect on art production or distribution, that there were known unknowns, possibilities we knew existed but were yet to define. In reality artists were just adding new tools to the old tools. Websites didn’t replace galleries and more people went to art fairs than ever before. Everything just fragmented a little. At its best the term post-Internet felt like a defensive move, a way to avoid a reductive dialogue around art and technology by stepping back a little. As far as the group goes, the work of many of the other artists on that panel had a big impact on me. People like Ed Fornieles and Oliver Laric were playing with ideas that heavily influenced what I do now.

At DLD we discussed the idea of you wanting to emanate your practice, to enter more into society.

I think it was a desire for feedback. I remember thinking about Jimmy Merris’s work, and about how in 20 years’ time when we look back at life in London in the late 2000s his dark, comical videos will do more than any other record to sum it all up. He’s a great artist so it comes down to identity and language, plus he’s a bit mad. My work had neither and 20 years is a long time.

At that point I was in the middle of a research projects for the Marrakech Biennale, looking at how kids in Morocco were using YouTube. We were seeing subcultures form around sets of videos and grouped under similar titles. Searching for the term Morocco Drift returned hundreds of videos of cars being driven sideways. In the UK this happens late at night in parking lots but here disparate groups had found new mechanisms to perform the same adolescent ritual. At DLD I talked about this idea – that search terms, hashtags or keywords were superseding public space as a place to group.

Out of all this came ideas that needed to be proved or disproved. That’s where we are now. It’s also nice to know that thousands of people around the world have a little bit of software in their pocket that we made : )

Slight-7Do you see this idea as an extended form of your art practice or did you stop being an artist and are now doing something else?

I stopped. There is a lot of overlap in terms of influence and ideas but the outcome serves a fundamentally different purpose. We built a tool, I hope people find a good use for it but it’s just a tool. When you make that switch you lose criticality but you get the chance to build something new. I guess for me it became more about answers than questions.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Somewhere sunny. If Slight still exists it would offer an interesting historical perspective. Nothing gets deleted so scrolling back through old posts would bring up the thoughts and conversations of people at a location over the last 5 years.

Do you have any unrealized projects – projects that have been too big or too small to be realized?

A school in the California hills with high tech wrist bands and matching uniforms. Somewhere between a Korean spa and the second episode of Black Mirror, where school credit is earned and traded, and if you work hard you receive luxury goods.

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