Art & Culture

A little story about Anab Jain

sign for the downtown yellow chair

The first time I met Anab Jain, it was in San Jose, California, during the 01SJ/ISEA 2006 festival. I was drawn to the yellow chair perched in a grassy square, and when I finally got close enough to see that it wasn’t just any yellow chair, but the Yellow Chair at the heart of a project that I had read about online and so admired, I was thrilled. I was doubly delighted when I discovered the creator of such a cool project, Anab, was there for me to meet.

The Yellow Chair Project is one of those beautiful projects that demonstrates many things. It is an elegant illustration of how wireless networks can be so much more than a soulless pay-for service, while also being a fun way of encouraging dialogue around sharing, and highlighting the evolution of social relationships in our urban terrain (where the proverbial ‘cup of sugar’ that we might borrow from a neighbour used to involve face-to-face contact, and now, the sugar has turned into wifi that we borrow and don’t even know which neighbour it came from).

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, giving the project away before really telling you what it is. I’ll quote Anab’s website, as the creator often describes their work best:

“”My Wi-Fi network is open for neighbours and passers-by. Free access from the yellow chair.” By placing this sign and a yellow chair outside my house, I conducted a live service design intervention and extended the boundaries of my home to encompass the boundaries of my wireless network. This ‘grass roots’ design approach illustrates how wireless technologies could become interfaces to recreate transient spaces for conversations at the threshold of the public and the private, the physical and the electronic.”

Anab produced a small advertising campaign to draw attention to the presence of the yellow chair and encourage people to share her wireless network. She solicited feedback from the users of her network, and received several positive comments (“It’s nice to sit in the fresh air and check my mails…”). This is already a project that has won over my heart, but then… Anab upped the ante by opening up the shared folder, and making it a curated space where she offered something new every day. Music files, a recipe for chicken tikka masala, an offer to have a cup of tea… All this at the humble yellow chair! See if you get that kind of service from The Cloud!

Anab describes herself as someone who likes “to tell speculative stories of possible near futures at the intersection of the technological and sociological”. The Yellow Chair project I’m telling you about is just the tip of the iceberg, she has gone on to do many more impressive and insightful projects (more info on that here), and what’s more — she’s curious and supportive and stays in touch. After that little meeting we had in San Jose at her yellow chair, I dropped her a line. I don’t set my expectations too high for further contact after these brief meetings at art events. Now that I know Anab better, it comes as no surprise that in addition to being a woman of exceptional talent, she’s a warm and supporting colleague who stays in touch.

In short, Anab rocks and if you want to know what the future of design will be, you should fix your eyes firmly on her projects!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. This is my contribution.