All images courtesy of Jean Boites/DIS
No offense to Jay Z, Bey, and the Mona Lisa, but #artselfies have been around for ages. So long, in fact, there's enough material to turn them into a book.
As part of their Follow Me series, which examines digital phenomena, Paris-based publishing house Jean Boîte joined forces with New York-based collective DIS and put together a compendium of #artselfies taken from social media outlets.
Just what is it about our generation that deems art hard to appreciate unless we become part of it, though? I got in touch with DIS members Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, and David Toro for a chat on the fickle nature of digital matter, the surge in cultural tourism, and the irregularities of museum photographic policies. They all insisted on being quoted "collectively," which makes sense since they're part of a collective.
In his intro to #artselfie, Douglas Coupland laments the loss of analogue photography, yet the book is a compendium of printed images. Why did you feel this phenomenon should be a book?
DIS: It's funny because, maybe five or six years ago, everyone just thought digital made things last forever, you know? Now, we're realizing that things are really ephemeral with digital. Obviously as technology changes formats change, too. Things will actually disappear. As our information clouds get larger and larger, there's a sense that things will disappear into the ether, so there's something nice about putting them into tangible form.
There are so many artists working with digital video and stuff like that, and the process of archiving is kind of intense. How can you be sure that you can keep your work safe—that you will have it later?
There's a risk factor.
There's a fragility to it all. Nothing is permanent, and we've only just begun to realize.
Do you take #artselfies?
It's the only time I take selfies.
In the book you mention that you researched the photography policies instituted at different museums. Was there anything particularly interesting about them?
We were really surprised that the Brooklyn Museum was so forward-thinking. They're, like, suggesting hashtags as wall text. Also, policies even changed from exhibit to exhibit. It wasn't a uniform thing. And some were very specific—to the point of differentiating between video and JPEGs.
Most museums allow their permanent collection to be photographed, but not their traveling exhibitions. Which I guess makes sense, because they have a certain authority. But I also feel like one artist in a group show can ruin it for everyone.
I guess taking pictures of museum art democratizes it. More people get to see it.
We have also discussed the sense of the enhanced or enriched museum experience—you're able to remember a work long after you've left the gallery. Otherwise, you just walk through things and forget them.
But of course this doesn't really serve all artists. A tiny 200x200-pixel JPEG doesn't capture it at all—maybe there's a sound element, but in the end you just get this flat image that you want to be more protective of. Which we sympathize with.
The #artselfie book was about 1GB—which is a really small file weight—after upsizing and decompressing everything. It still doesn't look bad, though.
How did Simon Castets, Douglas Coupland, and Marvin Jordan—who all have texts in the book—become involved?
Simon initially brought the idea of #artselfie to the attention of Jean Boîte, so it seemed logical to have a conversation with him in the book. And then with Douglas Coupland, well, we're just huge fans. We thought he'd have something intelligent to say about it all. Marvin Jordan is someone who does a lot of work for DIS, and has a drastically different tone from Coupland.
Does an #artselfie become different in Europe where the relationship to art and art history is a little more intense?
The book is partially about tourism and the compulsion to document constant connectivity. It's about other people you know seeing an image too, it's not just for yourself. It's so your friends know you are there. If no one saw it, it never happened.
Also, the pictures included in the book weren't just taken in the States, but also at Frieze London, the Art Basels, and many museums around the world.
How did you comb through the image selection?
It was an extremely tedious task. We have seen about 13,000 to 14,000 images tagged with the #artselfie hashtag now. And then there are plenty of photos that haven't been tagged.
It also became apparent over time that #artselfies could be categorized. There were funny ones, serious ones, ones where people are imitating sculptures, etc. We tried to have a nice overview.
What's the most common #artselfie?
The Mona Lisa. There was probably, like, 30 of those in our original selection. Ten made it in the book.
Is there an #artselfie etiquette?
Don't bump into people. Don't walk. Don't touch the art.