NSFW: Nick Sethi's Selfie Experiment
Nick Sethi is looking at a naked girl’s selfie, which isn’t that unusual of a thing because for the last several months he’s sifted through almost one hundred thousand pictures of girls showing off their naked bodies on the internet. But now his work is done and “Olympia,” his curated collection of naked selfies, hangs on the walls of Magic, Gogy Esparza’s NYC project space. His latest presentation is currently on display at Toronto’s Working Title until September 20th.
Like most of Nick’s art, “Olympia” comes from a personal exploration into how people project themselves through technology. The NYC-based artist got his start as an assistant to photographers Terry Richardson and Jonathan Mannion, but in this case, he later explains, he got the idea for an art project when he poked his head into his gym’s new tanning booth.
“It’s just such a weird fucking situation and you have to deal with yourself in there and you don’t know if the door is locked or if you’re going to turn the tanning thing on for too long and it’ll be a Final Destination style thing,” he says with a laugh. “But once I got used to it, I was in there with my phone taking photos because the lighting is super sick and I just figured that if I’m doing this shit then girls who are tanning daily or weekly are doing the same shit because it’s a vain thing to do.”
The tanning photos eventually became their own exhibition, but while researching tens of thousands of images, he started to notice trends in these selfies. A lot of girls, for example, will crop their photos just below their eyes to preserve a sense of anonymity even though pretty much everything else is on display. And as strange as it might sound, Nick says, selfies are in many ways an unfiltered look at how these girls want others to see them.
“Nobody’s like, ‘Pop your ass out more and do this and do that,’” he says. “She can cover up the things she doesn’t like about herself and blast the things she loves. To me, it’s super sick.”
Rather than just make the project about a lot of hot, naked girls, Nick has set up his shows to make visitors conscious of the voyeurism reflected in so much of our always-connected world. At Magic, mirrors are arranged throughout the room, behind prints of girls and, in one case, a narrow mirror rests directly at eye level.
“If the show works correctly,” Nick says, “you get lost in looking through [the photos] and figuring out where they all are and what they all mean and how they all connect. Then there’ll be times where it’ll catch you off guard with a mirror behind a print and you’ll have to deal with yourself looking at the images.”
Nick’s next plan is to visit India for a month where he’ll investigate other, weirder ways technology is shaping the way we communicate and see ourselves and those around us. “It’s kind of coming around full circle and I’m stoked to go back to India and do even weirder work,” he says. “I don’t want the work to look like anything you’ve ever seen. Not fashion, not documentary, not portraits, not staged, not unstaged, I just want it to be this weird thing that can only exist in 2014.”