In some ways, Instagram is a patchwork quilt, one engineered not with thread, but vanity. Brunch, holidays, and the crevices of carefully filtered faces are stitched together in the hope of validation through likes and comments. And that's exactly why it bothers me. I'd like to have my Narcissus moment, but I've never seen my reflection and fallen in love with what I see on the flip screen. I'm too insecure to share a photo of my face, and think that someone would want to see it, let alone "like" it.
Michael Stipe does not share my problem, and, I'd confidently bet that Michael Stipe – and I'm going to say 'Michael Stipe' throughout and not 'Michael' or 'Stipe' because there is something about the phonetics of 'Michael Stipe' that just sounds really great aloud – doesn't overthink his digital self as much as I do. Michael Stipe is very much living in the moment and enjoying every reflection in the pool: I know this because thanks to an algorithm, Instagram recommended that I follow him, and oh boy, I am very much here for it.
At the turn of the year, the former R.E.M. frontman reactivated his account after quitting with disgust when Facebook bought the app in 2013. His previous images were mainly generic (household objects and flowers in trees); there was nothing as engaging as this feature for The Guardian in 2011. Since rejoining though, with his old pictures deleted, Michael Stipe has been reborn as some sort of still life human emoji documentarian, indulging in what is essentially just a running account of his face. For example, one morning, he used it to pay tribute to David Bowie, posting three pictures in a row that ran the gamut of emotions that we all felt during that sad day.
What's fascinating about Michael Stipe's account is that you can see his experiment evolving in real time. Every emotion is captured. I mean, have you ever been as serenely happy about anything in life as Michael Stipe is about bottle caps? My grandad started saving bottle caps because he wanted to use them in a mosaic. He ditched the idea. Had he created anything then I would have liked to have seen him beaming with the same pride as Michael Stipe.
His fair, Ginsberg-esque appearance is growing more enthralling and omnipresent by the day, as his expressions jump between Derek Zoolander, evergreen punk hero, and New York City art correspondent. Every now and again, the consistent presence of his face will meet another wonderful face in extra special episodes, like Patti Smith, Tilda Swinton, or Wes Anderson.
I like to think that Michael Stipe's interest in Instagram is because it allows him to produce art without providing textual information: it gives him a medium for visual absurdity. He's a digital auteur and a flaneur, taking back the gaze into his hands and revealing a man exercising his post-R.E.M. self-discovery.
Like this. I hope Michael built this. I hope he has those smartphone gloves; they're superb for multitasking. I hope you're taking care of your hands, Michael. I know many have to suffer for their art, but please, wear gloves. The thought of you taking selfies in the cold produces a single solitary tear rolling from my eye.
I've now been following him for around eight weeks and, at the time of writing, he is 87 posts deep into his Odyssey. I truly believe we are witnessing the opening stirs of a magnum opus. A visual rumination on what it is to be older and happy as fuck about it. There is a sixteenth REM album, and is it Michael Stipe's Instagram. I'll leave you with his words in the video below: "It's my birthday. I'm amazing. Look at this beautiful fire."
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