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28-year-old Brooklyn artist Nick Schmidt is experimenting with the fragility of online privacy through a recent controversial project involving the selling of his Facebook page. “I was just trying to figure out a way to delete my Facebook page,” Schmidt told me during an interview over the phone. “Unlike many Facebook profiles out there – mine is not staged or scripted, it’s pure. This was a way of giving the page to someone else, so it’s still living but I have nothing to do with it any more.” However, during the process of selling of his Facebook page, Schmidt exposed more than just his login name and password.

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Photo: Schmidt’s Facebook Auction – Motherboard/Kari

The Brooklyn artist’s first attempt at selling his Facebook page (complete with 819 friends) on eBay came to a halt after the company forced him to take it down due to it’s policy on selling personal information. How interesting Schmidt thought. eBay sells private user information all the time. If he can’t sell his own private information – why can they sell his? This contradictory outcome proved to be just one of many interesting points conveyed through Schmidt’s Facebook experiment.

To keep the momentum going, Schmidt decided last minute to take his project to a local Brooklyn auction. Starting at 99 cents, the skeptical attendees took turns increasing the bid. Twenty minutes and $110 dollars later, Andre Ohanesian (an artist himself) became the proud recipient of Schmidt’s Facebook page and password. However, making money had no place in this project. In addition to exposing the contradictory policies of sites like eBay, he also wanted to see what would happen if he handed over his private world to a stranger. Ohanesian’s response, after he won the auction, gave an interesting glimpse into the human aspect of the experiment, “I’m not interested in catfishing people. What I’m interested in is using the shell of Nick’s persona to promote my own manipulative goals. It’s much easier for me to promote myself through him.”

What Ohanesian’s “manipulative goals” will be is anyone’s guess, but Nick will continue to monitor the project (and so can you) and eventually will try to turn it into an exhibit of some sort. Consider this a true social experiment on privacy and the human condition. But this isn’t Schmidt’s first thought provoking art project, nor will it be his last. Here’s a closer look at the man, artist, and purist that is Nick Schmidt and what the future holds for this ever-growing and ballsy talent.

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Photo of Nick Schmidt

INTERVIEW

VS: Tell me a little about your background and artwork.

NS: I’m originally from Cleveland Ohio and went to school at the Columbus College of Art and Design. My life was originally geared towards working for a high profile NYC advertising agency. After graduate school, I worked my way into the agency through an internship and was eventually hired. I felt like this was it – like, I made it. But over time, I wasn’t happy.

VS: What happened?

NS: I started feeling like I no longer had creative freedom. The company was great and I learned so much, but the actual job that I thought I wanted didn’t reflect the kind of artist I wanted to be.

VS: Elaborate on that.

NS: I lost my true creativity because most advertising agencies are client driven. I couldn’t grasp that concept. I felt so confined. I was like, shit – I got what I wanted – but it didn’t fit me. I realized that I had the mind of a fine artist and needed to do creative projects without any barriers. So I left. I guess I was raised in an environment with parents who gave me freedom to experiment and then as I grew older, I didn’t feel a need to go crazy with the same things that others kids went overboard with like drinking etc…This kind of upbringing was the antithesis of my experience in advertising. I was so artistically confined and restricted in that world – but now, it’s like – I want to do anything and everything creatively.

VS: Where did you go from there?

NS: I started creating pieces and projects that I wanted people to easily connect to. I don’t want cohesive pieces – I just want to do what I want to do – organically, and see where it takes me.

VS: Tell me about some of your art pieces/projects.

NS: Before the Facebook project, I did an interactive piece a few years ago called Unlock and Explore. I offered my iPhone up to the public on the street, allowing strangers to go through my all my personal information like texts, Instagram, emails, and photos – no holds barred. I sat there to just make sure no one stole it, but tried to not interfere with the organic process of the experiment.

VS: What was the result?

NS: Many people felt it was taboo and were weirded out. They didn’t even want to touch it. But younger viewers – they had at it. They posted Facebook messages as well as nude photos they found on the internet, took selfies, scrolled through my contacts and made crank calls – stuff like that. But I liked the resistance factor in the experiment – the anxiousness that many people had when holding the phone or looking through it was great. After this street experiment, I decided to put it on display in an art gallery so that it became more of an interactive installation piece.

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Photos: Nick Schmidt – Unlock and Explore exhibit

VS: How was the solo show different from the street experiment?

NS: People were more comfortable in the environment, so they took their time to really interact with the iPhone. The Gallery owner said one person actually sat with the phone for an hour one day. Another person left a note in the notes app stating he changed some of the names in my contact list so I would have to figure out which numbers belonged to the correct people. I was fascinated to see how open people were.

VS: Why do you think they reacted differently?

NS: Because I wasn’t there, as opposed to the street project where the participants new I was present. I think people were more hesitant in harming me and/or my property in some way. I plan on doing it again at a different venue. And then sell the phone while it’s active (with service), get a new number and track it. It’s like selling a modern-day diary.

VS: Do you notice a common theme throughout your work? The Facebook auction, the cell phone exhibit, the 10% charge remaining piece – Low Battery, the vending machine piece – Every Item Stuck etc…

NS: Yeah. There’s an unexpected thread of sadomasochism and anxiety throughout my work, even though the pieces are in different mediums. It’s disturbing to me, I feel like – what the hell is wrong with me? But I think some of it has to do with my former advertising days and creative restrictions. But I wasn’t nervous when I gave my cell phone to the public or sold my Facebook page. I feel like whatever happens from those projects is organic. I’m excited to see what they do with it. It will either confirm the belief in the benevolence of people or confirm everybody’s fears of what we think somebody would do with our cell phone, Facebook page or privacy in general.

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Photo: Nick Schmidt – Every Item Stuck exhibit

VS: What are your plans now?

NS: I’m going in a different direction. I’ll be setting up an underground subway morning show with a DJ where I’ll give the commuters a morning show experience. I’ll be playing music, telling people the weather and time, and reminding those who are close to being late for work. Anyone can follow me on Instagram @nickhugh for details when I’ll be setting it up.

So, show Nick Schmidt some love and follow him on Instagram to see where his new creative direction will take him and maybe even, where it will take you. Stay Tuned…

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