The Instagrammable You
Once upon a time I flew to Melbourne and learned a valuable lesson about art and life. I had been walking around for quite a while, aimlessly doing touristy things, and putting rather large blisters on my feet, when one day I went to the National Gallery of Victoria. Inside was a very well put together exhibit of Picasso and Dora Maar, but what stuck with me was the video installation by Hiraki Sawa "Going Places Sitting Down." The irony of my seeing this video was a monumental eureka moment. I could stay put and still go places!
This was in 2006, before Google Maps. In 2010 Instagram was released into the world by Kevin Systrom. Art, travel and all of us have never been the same since. Now if there is a good thing to be seen, we all know about it within minutes or hours. A notable sunflower field in Ontario comes to mind. What used to take chance, many months of saving for airfare, and a good deal of effort to find, is now available at our fingertips. We ourselves, our abilities and our interests, are all part of the program. Marcel Dzama is on Instagram, Jenny Holzer has a twitter bot and we can all watch George Condo paint his fantastic portraits on Youtube. Shepard Fairey says it best with his "Obey Giant" brand: we are all creating propaganda of the self or of our nationhood.
Circa 2008, there were books dedicated to brand "You." "You: The Owner's Manual" comes to mind. Today, bookstagrams are popular with thousands of people showing off their reading preferences and New York Public Library excelling at blending covers that have faces with people reading books. We do this to show our worth, maybe our latest manicure. The fear of missing out ("FOMO") is the new "keeping up with the Joneses." You visit Australia, I post about my garden and we each wish we were there, doing that thing. The idea of that ideal photo that is filtered to perfection. I can post about a book, but did I actually sit down and read it? Someone please write "You: Being Healthy Online."
You CAN go places sitting down. You can see your contemporaries posting about how productive they are. Everyone is doing something, that is harmless right? It is all still propaganda, or the original "Fake News." We get told about the "new normal" so often, but the manipulation of imagery has been around since at least the Pyramids. Ideas such as iconoclasm, caricatures, portraiture, triumphal arches, any noteworthy art movement have all been about the same thing: perception. We have books on how to make the best online presentations possible. The key skill is to recognize that on the way to Luna Park, the person behind the camera may have put holes in their feet. I would do all that walking again, though maybe wearing better shoes, and track my step count next time.
I am also thinking about the art history moment that was captured on video by Bansky, and released on instagram that recently went viral. Jenny Saville is now the most expensive living female artist to have her work sell at auction. Her painting "Propped" photobombed the shredding of Bansky's "Girl with a Balloon." I am curious to know if it sold before or after this moment as it is part of the backdrop of the shredding footage. "Propped" is a distinctive nude in which the focal point is also seated. You can go very far without moving, in ways technology cannot even predict.