Monday, March 23, 2015

Illuminations 3.23.15

I'm about to go off on about how much I care about an individual's power of self-expression, but first, look at this absolutely awesome "selfie museum" called Art in Island that just opened in Manila. It features a bunch of interactive versions of famous artworks, and unlike a traditional museum, you're encouraged to get your dirty human hands all over the masterpieces.

Like, wow. I get that this is more of a theme park than an actual museum, half for tourists and half for fine arts enthusiasts, but I'm still delighted. Art is supposed to speak to you, or something deep like that, and this is sort of like a crossover between interactive performance art and fine art. The exhibitions are all set up so that they're either roomy enough for one more, or blatantly incomplete without you.

I've tried to get in the habit, but I take pictures of myself so rarely that last year's New Years Resolution for me was to take a selfie at least once a month, and I failed. I think I only managed to take seven all year. Maybe eight. But I love seeing other people's selfies. I hope in five hundred years we're called the Selfie Era.

Of course, self portraits have existed since the dawn of pretty much any given artistic medium. It's not uncommon or new to want to capture the self, and to do so with your own hand and eye. But painting a self portrait or setting up a tripod with a time delay in an aesthetically dilapidated barn are pretty different from winking into your iPhone camera set up with a selfie stick.


I love the intimacy and control of the selfie. People can take fifty in one sitting and pick the one they like the best, the one they want to use to represent themselves. The exact tilt of the head and squint of the eyes they find ideal, the angle that hides a zit or disguises a jawline they wish was shaped differently. They can move into lighting which flatters them best, or just completely disregard the whole concept of "looking good" and make silly faces to reflect their mood. In a world which is constantly telling you that you need a smaller nose, sharper cheekbones, a thinner neck, whatever, that's really powerful, especially for young people who are already so impressionable and insecure. I'm sure everyone is aware of how airbrushing and Photoshop have warped our perception of what a real human looks like. (Please click that link. Please, please, please click that link.)

I don't understand why people who take a lot of pictures of themselves get mocked. What's the alternative, photographing trees? The sunset? Maybe I'm being overly humanist, but you know what, we as a species can see the sunset every day from now until the sun collapses in on itself, assuming we survive that long, so what's the problem? I and everyone I know is gonna be dead within the century and maybe our ancient Instagrams on Ye Olde Hypertext Transfer Protocol will be the only piece of the universe which remembers my friend found a sick, wet kitten in the middle of winter and nursed him back to health.

That's what I care about. I care about that friend and the excitement you can read in her face as she cuddles her new cat, healthy and bright-eyed and ready to play. I care about the friend who has had problems with self-esteem since childhood showing off her makeup and new skirt, comfortable enough with the picture to want to share it with the world. And I care about the friend who makes purposely grotesque faces in every single selfie she Snapchats to me, because nothing better captures her obnoxious, ridiculous personality like those pictures do.

Art in Island is really unique in that it's embracing both sides of the coin. Of course there is merit in the work of "the masters"; that's why it has endured, and that's why we study and admire art that is hundreds or thousands of years old. The selfie museum is a celebration of fine art, but it's also a celebration of self-expression. I hope we get one in New York soon. Honestly, I just really want to be an awkward third wheel making a hideous screaming face in La Tempête. Why are they so unaffected? I hate being rained on. I hate being rained on so much that I'm going to take a selfie of my dissatisfied face the next time it has the nerve to rain on a day I need to leave my room. And I hope that's the way the world remembers me.

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