It’s something we’re all guilty of: the selfie.
Admittedly, as I press the button to take the snap I capture a hypocrite who also preaches about the selfie being a practice and show of vanity. I remind myself that it’s okay because, at least, I don’t own a selfie stick. But take away the ‘ie’ and add ‘-expression’, as the exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery did, and the selfie becomes something quite different. Where vanity was before, sentiment, individuality and artistry now stand in its place.
While Selfie to Self-Expression seemed to agree with some of my criticisms of the vain act, it also toyed with the idea of the selfie and emphasised its expressive and emotive value.
The first room showed me how, in fact, archaic this supposedly new concept is. Mounted on the walls were large iPhone-like screens on which artist’s self-portraits were presented. Each screen was accompanied by a normal-sized iPhone beside it that mimicked the layout of instagram with a heart to like the selfies by artists such as Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Joseph Decreux (who you might recognise from selfie’s best friend, the meme).
The modern screen assisted the realisation that the selfie has been in existence for hundreds of years, it has just been hidden behind layers of paint and the talented application of it, and smuggled into the name ‘self-portrait’. Basically, we’ve always been vain, and the selfie is not new, despite Word’s failure to validate it as a word.
Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer, as well as Nan Goldin’s documentation of her abused face in Nan one month after being battered showed how the selfie can be a depiction of something raw; a harsh reality, unlike the glorifying show of our best angles that the selfie often takes form in.
A room in which a projector split the walls into a huge game of memory showed hundreds of tiny webcams, in each of which a different person spoke to fill the space with a stressful, chaotic soundscape. Each tiny skype-like screen portrayed the human need to be heard, an effort that was ironically lost in the competition for this need. In a way that is critical of social media and our shrinking world, the face-filled room can make you feel strangely alone.
Upon the walls of the next room were mounted selfies with recognisable faces. Trump, Obama, the Queen and other red carpet walkers were all captured taking pictures of themselves; it has become an intricate part of our culture. Sometimes fans piled behind them, pushing to fit their face into the frame, or sometimes the fan took the photo, gleaming beside their hero. A stamp is put on the encounter when we take a selfie as if the encounter is only validated when we have something saved on our phones to prove it.
A video showed a time lapse of people visiting a Swiss mountain peak. Numerous people came and left, but each took part in the ritualistic practice of posing for a selfie by the mountain’s edge. The film turns the landscape into a theatre set, and ridicules the actor’s performances that prioritise the perfect pose over the enjoyment of their surroundings. Most of these selfie-takers did not stop to take in the view. Their only memory will be contained on a small screen in which the view is obscured by the main subjects of the photo.
Daniel Rozin’s Pom Pom Mirror added a touch of genius to the exhibition. As I stood before it, the fur pom poms moved to mimic my figure, but I couldn’t help but feel mocked as I searched for my usual reflection. I could almost swear I heard Rozin laughing, “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the furriest of them all?”
The exhibition is free.