Time to snap wall be­tween art and selfie gen­er­a­tion

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - Adam Suess and Kylie Budge

With 800 mil­lion users and grow­ing, it was per­haps in­evitable that In­sta­gram would shake up the art world. The so­cial photo plat­form has been ac­cused by the me­dia of fan­ning a nar­cis­sis­tic selfie cul­ture. But in gal­leries, re­search is show­ing that the neg­a­tive as­pects are far out­weighed by the pos­i­tive. In­sta­gram is chang­ing the way we ex­pe­ri­ence and share our vis­its to ex­hi­bi­tions, and how we per­ceive art.

In fact, arts in­sti­tu­tions are now ac­tively court­ing In­sta­gram users. The Mu­seum of Ice Cream in the US is con­sid­ered one of the most In­sta­grammed ex­hi­bi­tions, with over 125,000 hash­tagged posts. The show in­cluded such In­sta-friendly dis­plays as giant cher­ries, sus­pended ba­nanas, and a rain­bow sprin­kle pool.

Closer to home, the cur­rent Tri­en­nial at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria fea­tures sev­eral large, In­stafriendly in­stal­la­tions. Vis­i­tors are in­vited to lie on Alexan­dra Ke­hayo­glou’s car­pet work, Santa Cruz River (de­pict­ing a river in Ar­gentina that is at the cen­tre of a con­tentious damming pro­posal), and take their photo in a mir­ror on the ceil­ing. Per­ils and pos­si­bil­i­ties In­creased vis­i­tor pho­tog­ra­phy at gal­leries and mu­se­ums has proved con­tro­ver­sial at times. Re­cently a vis­i­tor to Los An­ge­les pop-up art gallery The 14th Fac­tory de­stroyed $200,000 worth of crown sculp­tures. The sculp­tures rested on top of a se­ries of plinths, and while at­tempt­ing a selfie, a vis­i­tor fell, knock­ing the plinths down in a domino style chain re­ac­tion.

In an­other in­stance vis­i­tors dam­aged an 800-year-old cof­fin at the Prit­tlewell Pri­ory Mu­seum in the UK. The vis­i­tors had lifted a child over a pro­tec­tive bar­rier into the cof­fin in pur­suit of the per­fect photo. Their ac­tions caused the an­cient arte­fact to be knocked off its stand re­sult­ing in a large piece of the cof­fin break­ing off.

Many ex­hi­bi­tions still place re­stric­tions on pho­tog­ra­phy, and most gal­leries still pro­hibit selfie sticks. Rea­sons of­ten cited for these re­stric­tions in­clude copy­right con­sid­er­a­tions, con­cerns over the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence, and po­ten­tial for dam­age to works caused by ma­noeu­vring selfie sticks and flash light­ing (although it is de­bat­able whether flashes do dam­age art).

Ban­ning pho­tog­ra­phy on the ba­sis that it in­ter­feres with the vis­i­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ence could be seen as cul­tural elitism; ex­press­ing a view that art can only be ap­pre­ci­ated in an ortho­dox man­ner. It also ig­nores the po­ten­tial of In­sta­gram to bring a new di­men­sion to artists, cu­ra­tors, ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign­ers and vis­i­tors.

Re­cent re­search at Queens­land’s Gallery of Mod­ern Art Ger­hard Richter ex­hi­bi­tion showed that vis­i­tors use In­sta­gram as part of their aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence. A num­ber of par­tic­i­pants posted Richter’s art works on In­sta­gram cre­atively im­mers­ing them­selves in the im­age, wear­ing clothes match­ing the art, and copy­ing Richter’s sig­na­ture blurred style.

An­other study at the Mu­seum of Ap­plied Arts and Sciences’ Recol­lect: Shoes ex­hi­bi­tion in Syd­ney found that au­di­ences used In­sta­gram pri­mar­ily to en­gage with ex­hi­bi­tion con­tent; not by tak­ing self­ies.

Far from the nar­cis­sis­tic self­ieob­ses­sive be­hav­iour that much me­dia cov­er­age in­sists is oc­cur­ring, In­sta­gram of­fers vis­i­tors author­ity and agency in shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence.

This con­nects au­di­ences with mu­seum con­tent in a way that they can con­trol and is mean­ing­ful to them. New re­search shows how this ac­tiv­ity is also tied to place — the mu­seum, and the city beyond it.

Us­ing In­sta­gram in public spa­ces like mu­se­ums and gal­leries is com­plex. It’s tied to broader re­search that shows how so­cial me­dia use in public spa­ces is chal­leng­ing a range of so­cial norms.

As re­searchers in this emerg­ing area, we see much value in cu­ra­tors and ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign­ers mak­ing use of In­sta­gram to in­form how they plan ex­hi­bi­tions. It could help build new au­di­ences and strengthen bonds with ex­ist­ing vis­i­tors. While end­ing all vis­i­tor pho­tog­ra­phy curbs is not pos­si­ble, we be­lieve ex­pec­ta­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences of vis­i­tors have changed. The fu­ture of cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions needs to in­clude In­sta­gram. Adam Suess is a PhD can­di­date in Ed­u­ca­tion, Grif­fith Univer­sity Kylie Budge is Se­nior Re­search Fel­low, Ur­ban Liv­ing & So­ci­ety, West­ern Syd­ney Univer­sity.

Pic­ture / Getty Im­ages

In­sta­gram of­fers a new di­men­sion to art-view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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