If you made it to 29Rooms this weekend, hopefully you brought your smartphone. The exhibit, organized by Refinery29, was a galaxy of art in 29 different spaces. From a fuzzy pink study to a bubble-filled green master bedroom, each wrapped visitors up in their own domain.
People were drawn directly into the installations, rather than simply viewing them from the outside. "We design events to create memorable moments IRL—thinking about all the senses," Piera Gelardi, co-founder of Refinery29, tells The Creators Project. "In tandem we think about how within our events visitors can create content of their own. So yes, that means putting thought into how each experience photographs and how a visitor could interact and take great selfies." Paradoxically, the goal is for visitors to share the exhibits with their circles online, where the majority of people will actually experience the event from someone else's feed.
Many of the rooms don't just encourage selfies, but were designed specifically for them. There's the "Panda" ballpit by Diesel creative director Nicola Formichetti; the "You-Niverse" aura photos by Radiant Human where you leave with a portrait of yourself; and the "Wig Out" room, designed in collaboration with RuPaul, where viewers sit in a chair with a wig hanging over their head.
Taking selfies even becomes a political act at 29Rooms. People pose under a rainbow in the "Show Your Pride" room by Kate Moross. "We now experience images and media in so many new, more democratic ways," says Gelardi, viewing the selfie as a means of forcing new ideas of beauty into mainstream culture. "Selfies allow us to insert ourselves into the visual landscape and force representation to change."
Snapping photos with the work is also a means of actively engaging with it, as opposed to passively staring. Signe Pierce, who created the "Come to Your Senses" room with hand-screened wallpaper company Flavor Paper, said she designed her peep-show installation with the idea of it being thoroughly interactive, and seflies were definitely a consideration in that respect. "It's strategic, but cool," Pierce tells us. One prominent feature of her piece is that mirrors cover everything; that ubiquitous surface of self reflection. "I think that the mirror's omnipresence is a literal reflection of the times we're currently in. It's an apt object for a generation that coined a new word for gazing at themselves."
29Rooms isn't the only art event catering to selfie culture, museums around the country are creating installations and features that recognize the act's importance today in viewing art (though the selfie stick is often unwelcome). Academics have even coined the term "arties" for when people take selfies with a work of art. Their research indicates that while the average time spent viewing a piece remains the same, much of that time is now spent capturing just the right pic of their good side.
Gelardi considers the rise of the selfie as a double-edged sword. "I have mixed feelings about it, honestly. When I see people posing for selfies in front of an artwork like Kara Walker’s Sugar Baby, I think selfies may the be the downfall of civilization," she says, referring to a large-scale sugar sculpture that was made in homage to unpaid and overworked laborers.
"On the other hand," says Gelardi, "I think the scavenger-like hunt for the perfect selfie can drive more people to seek out and engage with art, and become artists of their own."