KEEN ON MAGAZINE: ISSUE 2 ATTENTION
keen on magazine issue n°2 ATTENTION
Editors Note: Sabrina Möller
My day on my smartphone starts with the ringing of my alarm. 6,867 unread emails are visible on the display. And the list grows every day. Who’s supposed to read them all?And how am I supposed to filter out what’s relevant for myself from this heap? I’m waiting at the red light, head bowed, informing myself about the world, when the girl next to me takes a selfie. Kind of embarrassing, I think.
90s kids must be the first to know nothing of the shamefulness of public selfies. I sporadically question self-staging on social media channels, although, for most, it is a long-established fixture of normality. The keyword here is self-marketing — as demonstrated by the fact that at least every other application that lands in our editorial office refers us to an Instagram account. Just a few years ago, we would have chosen a Facebook pseudonym to prevent our (potential) employer from stumbling across anything too interesting.
Generating attention has always been a hot topic. For activists, actors, politicians. Public personages. But in our day, everybody wants to draw as much attention to themselves as possible: to their activities, their political engagement, their art, their daily #foodporn or simply their appearance. How can you stick out when the façade of every house is identical to the one next to it and the avocado on your bread is still green even after the 200th post? How can you generate attention in our contemporary flood of images and information? How do we filter? Is the unknown beyond of mainstream aesthetics the answer? Are some means of addressing our perception more powerful than others? And how did we get so hooked?
SHOULD ARTISTS STAY OFF INSTAGRAM?
A wry smile and a hearty slap on the shoulder, then his American friends climbed into the taxi leaving him standing on the sidewalk. The philosophically inclined Frenchman with combed-back hair was far from angry. His mind was hatching a plan: namely to upset the apple cart of the prissy art world. Let’s say he stood there grinning on Fifth Avenue for a moment whilst he held the porcelain pissoir firmly in his grip. The rest is history: Marcel Duchamp took the urinal into his studio, flipped it round, gave it a title and declared it was art. The elite circle of people who hitherto had been the definers of art, were horrified. Duchamp, more a lover of chess than art, pulled off a clever trick to question the fundamental concept of what constitutes a piece of art. The task of defining what is art belongs not to the self-proclaimed arbiters of taste but to the artist alone. This was Duchamps’ progressive thinking that revolutionized the artworld.
However, the arbiters of taste didn’t go away. OK, so they no longer strut through the Paris salons but instead hover defensively at the galleries on whose white walls selected pieces hang. For the majority of them it is clear: art is sublime, artists are not like you and me — and whosoever dares to peek behind its sacred halls runs the risk of banishing the spell.
At the moment, right bang up there at the top of the list of risk factors is the photo sharing app “Instagram”. Worldwide, 500 million people use the platform, including more and more artists and curators, like Stephen Shore, Hans-Ulrich Obrist or Klaus Biesenbach. These are the superstars of the scene who are mocked by some of their colleagues for having an account: in certain sectors of the art industry the web has anything but a good reputation. It stands accused of debauching art as now in the world’s largest photoalbum it gets pasted next to the bathroom mirror selfie of a friend. The fear is for the value of the original, which belongs on a wall and which shouldn’t be vulgarly blazed abroad for free. One could deduce from this that essentially attention is paramount, however it is only vaunted when the stage is a museum and not the internet. A lot of bitching about Instagram goes on, even outside the art industry. But what’s the big deal?
Over 95 million moments are shared on the world’s leading platform every single day, perpetual input that grants via a no-ties-attached click access to the life of a total stranger. The unmade bed in the morning, the macha on the way to work, the pasta during a meeting — and the occasional selfie, either before or after sport. We watch strangers as they live their lives, as they stage-manage their daily existence, and it’s not just filler: life’s non-events are packed into a square, raised on a pedestal and, if you so wish, made accessible to the whole world. The “Instagram Stories” function, shamelessly copied by Instagram a short while ago from SnapChat, again opens up an entirely different dimension. “Non-events” are becoming “more real”, meaning “embellishing” via traditional filters and other tools is becoming obsolete. And yet the stage-managing aspect remains: here, anyone who wishes can be the center of attention and can dazzle in a light of his own choosing. Put briefly: Instagram is the link to the outside world. An instrument of self-affirmation. It is precisely this which is a thorn in the eye of the skeptics: an article in “Die Welt” described Instagram as the “kaputteste App der Welt”: the world’s crappiest app. It makes us into stalkers and destroys happiness by endlessly transforming it into images with the sole purpose of pushing brand “Me”. The magazine “Art” calls Instagram the fast-track to stage front for fun and for free, and the FAZ writes of the attention economy whose currency consists of ‘likes’ and followers.
That’s not entirely untrue: attention is courted in the social photo network. Numbers of followers are visible. These equate with popularity, influence and revenue, along the lines of: those who have, shall receive. If the number of followers is too few, you can buy more. Marketing agencies worldwide have specialized in this, hawking publicity using fake profiles that bump up the number of followers. In October 2014, the concept artist Constant Dullart paid 5.000 dollars to distribute 2.5 million followers amongst certain key people in the art world who are on Instagram, thereby garnering for them greater attention. The accounts of Ai Weiwei, Amalia Ulman, Hans-Ulrich Obrist or Jerry Saltz suddenly had a few thousand followers more. Dullart’s intention was to place all on an equal footing. This artistic intervention worked so well that at some point it was dropped, however over time the fact that the numbers had been manipulated was no longer of interest to anyone. The important thing was to impress by being followed. Unfortunately, in the art cosmos too the principle widely adhered to is the greater the audience, the greater the art. A blind eye was simply turned to the falsification.
British artist David Shrigley, famous for his drawings laced with black humor, simply did on the photo sharing app what he does in his art: taking life with a dose of humor. For one of the most eminent photographers of the present day, Stephen Shore, Instagram as well as being an opportunity to keep a visual diary is quite simply fun. So he too sometimes posts a selfie or two, arm-in-arm with his wife, in the sun in front of an apple tree. And the Canadian artist Petra Collins likes to rattle the masses with uncomfortable Instagram photos: dark pubic hair, curling out from around the edges of panties, armpit hair and morning acne held up to the camera as if routine so using the truth to take a sharp dig at the lies of make-up. Artists that post prints who don’t just have fake followers do exist. Those who like Collins purposely use it as their artistic medium as an occasional protest. Those who consciously stand against the monotony of “pretty” pictures by posting precisely on this platform and its teeming mass of samey images. And those who are wised up to the attention and use it with the express intention of being political, controversial and clever.
For Duchamp the idea came first followed by the medium. In a world where virtually everyone is an exhibitor maybe Instagram is where the medium is the message.