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Luke Nairn

Interview by Bob Bicknell-Knight

Originally published in the first issue of the isthisit? magazine in March 2017

Luke Nairn’s (b. 1986, Gloucester, UK) work jumps between the physical and the non physical and amongst other thing examines the internet as a space for endless potential and exploration. Nairn also uses digital media to push the potential of sculpture both physically and conceptually.


In this exclusive interview artist Luke Nairn talks to artist and curator Bob Bicknell-Knight.


Bob Bicknell-Knight: So, do you want to start by talking briefly about the work that you're currently producing, the ideas and the forms that are coming to fruition, and how that relates to your artworks relationship with the internet?


Luke Nairn: I’ve been writing a lot lately, it started with me making this series of redacted texts that were taken from news sites and became these sort of bit funny bit tragic works about censorship. They’re texts within a text, blacking out words revealing these surreptitious meanings. That progressed into an interest in the automated voice and making audio works in that vein. I recently did a residency with Floating Reverie where each day I wrote and recorded these audios that form an abstract dystopic-ish piece of fiction, that weaves appropriated text, automated phrases and the actions of mundane tasks together. I think with what I make there is always this idea present of freedoms of the internet being eroded and the principles of cyber-utopianism being tested.


B: The series 'Are they names if they're randomly generated' does seem to portray a very Orwellian future, where one encounters targeted ads on the tube based on their Amazon wish list and listens to the sound of a virtual fire for hours as evening entertainment. What are your thoughts on the internet of things, the networking of our devices, not entirely unlike the networked society that you've created through your recordings?


L: In the series the networked living becomes an oppressing force, it portrays the Internet of things as we know it now, but without any optimism for what a more advanced networked society could bring, and what’s created is a conforming, intrusive and repetitive environment. Towards the end of the first audio clip, the narrator talks about blue light interrupting sleep patterns, ‘blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone mel-a- tonin and causes shifts in our internal clocks’, how the increased use of devices and integrated systems has the potential to affect our well-being is something the work tries to approach, computer usage having an impact on our ability to sleep feels like an eroding of instinctively human traits/ habits, it's an inadvertent intervention by the networked society over our brain chemistry and these types of interventions will continue to develop as networked society advances, I think we need to be aware of the balance between wellness and technology consumption.

Luke Nairn, Are they names if they're randomly generated I, 2017.

MP3 file.

Courtesy of the artist.

B: As we as humans evolve alongside our technological devices, slowly loosing what is deemed to be the essence of humanity, aren’t we simply creating a new definition of what it means to be human in this hyper connected world?


L: That could be true but I feel like we need to be aware of whether that new definition is better than the one we currently have, does a reliance on technology over time regress humanity in some ways, through an increased reliance on automation and computerised systems.


B: Does this awareness and interest in increasingly intelligent technology link to the choice of artists and general thinking behind your curatorial project DVD IS DEAD, an Instagram dedicated to showcasing video art on a monthly basis?


L: In some ways yes, for example DVD IS DEAD has shown work by artists including Jack Fisher and Kitty Clark, whose work in ways have those same concerns of intelligent technology but I am also quite conscious not to select exclusively artists whose practises have those motivations. I try to be open to a variety of different kinds of work so for instance Leah Clements or Ashley Holmes who are not making work about technology necessarily but use technology as a vehicle for what they do. I think to fully explore video as a medium all of its avenues need to be tried and tested and for me the channel is about the accessibility of video art in all its forms. I see DVD IS DEAD as one platform piggybacking on another, that’s an important aspect of the project for me. I think that with the advancement of technology into every avenue of daily life video has this great potential to intercept that. The more this type of online work bleeds through into the public sphere and not solely into the art world I think in the long term that will continue to help re-frame contemporary art as accessible and anti-elitist.

Luke Nairn, Are they names if they're randomly generated, 2017.

Digital image.

Courtesy of the artist.

B: In one sense Instagram is the perfect place to re-frame video art, infiltrating the masses in an accessible way, although the throwaway nature of the application and social media in general is concerning, especially within an art context. On the other hand, if the aim is to make art less elitist, then maybe adding that throwaway aspect to the work is important due to how we as human beings interact with things in the 'internet age', skim reading an article whilst simultaneously watching a film and eating dinner... In 2016 you took part in The iPhone Residency, using your time to explore the aesthetics of the iPhone alongside how it's used as a tool to document and re-frame information. What was this body of work influenced by?


L: I think those concerns about throw away online culture are completely valid, one of my thoughts at the time of starting the channel was about the amount of documentation of shows and works you could see online and especially on a photo specific app like Instagram, there’s this whole thing we all go through where we are aware of show after show because we’ve seen the pics online and in that sense (for me personally anyway) it can prevent a physical interaction with that exhibition. I wanted to start a project that was focused on utilising the Internet to produce new work that engaged with that online environment and didn’t just use it passively...The iPhone res work was focused around authoritarian controls of the Internet and more broadly censorship. The residency became this time where I was endlessly trying to distort a fact, a material, a view, through these multiple means, like setting a device in concrete or marker penning out text from a speech. I feel like on reflection this point in history will be defined by the battle between the founding principles of the Internet and bodies that are trying to alter them and that process I was engaged in on the res was trying to capture that power struggle. Capturing and creating this digital information and then getting rid of it, at the end I was left with a load of photos and video clips that were just blurs.


B: I definitely agree that during the past few years we’ve been seeing dramatic changes to the fundamental principles of the internet, with (obviously) the Snowden revelations in 2013 and more recently the Investigatory Powers Act being passed in the UK in late 2016, linking to alternative facts and the rise of Trump… I enjoy the physical embedding and blurring of the work, taking the adage ‘blurring the truth’ literally, and in a way blurring yourself into a corner it seems, unable to see where the original truth lies. Would it be correct to assume that you envision the web 3.0 of tomorrow to visualise your dystopic sound works that we talked about earlier, or do you think there’s hope for a future that resembles the utopian dreams of the late 80s?

Luke Nairn, ! The Connection to the server was reset while the page was loading, 2016.

Digital print, perspex.

Courtesy of the artist.

L: I think there is the potential for that more hopeful Utopian future but I think it’s likely we will live through a real life dystopia to get to it. There are so many obvious comparisons with the political situation of now and the 1930/40’s. After the fall of fascism the political left’s ideology flourished (the creation of the NHS under a socially reforming Labour Party in the UK or the forming of the United Nations for example) out of such oppression and destruction came new and refreshed passion for community and freedom, and thinking of that resurgence creates hope that the only thing that these alt-right defined times now signify are a prelude to revolutionary social change. That will inevitably be implemented with the Internet as an indispensable tool and the complete automation of services ushering in a new age of social redistribution. So yes I do very much believe in the possibility of that utopia but I fear it will be a consequence of the world I am describing in the audio work.


B: I guess progress in any situation can’t happen without significant change, which is something we’re definitely currently experiencing…  What’s next for you?


L: Curating an online exhibiting on isthisit? in April which I'm really looking forward to, more info coming soon, and some amazing artists coming up on DVD IS DEAD over the next few months, Will Kendrick is doing March and the vids are really exciting. Also I’ve been working on a new body of sculptural work, they are trying to be sort of slick, assemblage, listening device type objects and I'm working with new processes and materials to make them so I'm on a steep learning curve. Am looking at having an exhibition of some of them later in the year if things all work out.

Luke Nairn, The iPhone Residency, 2016.

Installation view

Courtesy of the artist.

Bob Bicknell-Knight is a London based artist and curator working in installation, sculpture, moving image, net art and other digital mediums. Online and offline surveillance accompanied by the consumer capitalist culture within today’s society are the main issues surrounding his work in association with current and future utopian environments, the continued automation of our daily lives in relation to the internet of things and the various cultures associated with online communities. Recent curated shows include The Museum Has Abandoned Us at State of the Art in Berlin, The Choice of a New Generation at The Muse Gallery in London.

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