Instagram and Art by Tengku Nurin

Tengku Nurin a performance artist talks about visual art in the age of Instagram together with EEE Lab, Saishogen and Bono Stellar for Urbanscapes 2018.
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As your avid social media ghost follower, I am always keeping an eye out for any forms of visual stimuli. Where art is concerned, the ideas and its construct change when social media is factored into the equation. Our relationship with it, specifically on Instagram, remains in constant flux. I could be in a state of awe, angst, fear, joy, and everything and anything else in between owing to this obsessive phenomenon of being a digital native. Weaselling into our lives so effortlessly, social media has created a grey space for art where artist integrity, ethics, and our perception of it are constantly head-butting.

When in conversation with EEE Lab, Saishogen and Bono Stellar in conjunction with Urbanscapes 2018, I made it a point to ask about using Instagram as a medium and how Urbanscapes as an event is looked upon as a social commodity, objectified into something that you should be seen at on your socials. The works created by these artists are seen as the pinnacle of Instagram worthy, attracting the platform’s denizens in droves with their neon light projections and iridescent surfaces.

A conflict exists in myself between seeking for solace within these artists, and rooting about for more drama to indulge and wallow in as social media user and an art student. There are two sides to the Instagram coin, a compliment or a possible insult for creators. Instead of the term causing friction throughout the interview, each individual revealed the everyday struggle of our normalised action of taking a pic for the “‘gram”.

“Know your intentions”, says Liyana from EEE Lab when asked about her thoughts. Jokingly she says that we have the attention span of 280 characters, in reference to the word limit on Twitter. A well deserved dig towards our need for instant and fleeting gratification from a virtual world that we mistake as the real world.

A dome with light projections and sound is immediately Instagram-worthy, something that the guys of Saishogen realised were an issue. Their immersive installation was reduced to becoming backgrounds of many OOTDs, making me question what the byproduct is to this equation. Are the OOTD images the byproduct of the installation or is the installation the byproduct of the prolific popularity of Instagram. Saishogen stressed on wanting to educate the public more with future works, hoping to leave the community with new sparks of ideas and detaching from the premise that their art is simply conceived for the sake of Instagram.

Having a love hate relationship with social media, Bono Stellar herself is an advocate of being more than an Instagram friendly artist. “Usually photos of my works or photos of artworks at museums gets less likes that photos of myself, of my face. It’s damn annoying”.  It’s interesting to hear that, as I’ve noticed the phenomenon happening across many social media accounts. If we were to analyse the patterns of ‘likes’, why does the representation of our physical self in front an artwork more valuable than a picture of the artwork itself? Does art on Instagram loose its value when you’re no longer featured alongside it?

I may not be an active Twitter or Instagram user, but I am guilty for posting images and videos of my own work and other’s work on Instagram in a cliched but no less pleasing way.”

Bono Stellar

In contrast to what others have said, I find myself scared to post my work at times. Not because it reveals too much about myself, but out of fear of it being not Instagram worthy. It’s not the ‘level’ of work that I’m concerned about, but rather the visual aesthetics that I am projecting to my ‘followers’, as the work I create isn’t considered conventional art. As a creator, you may take into consideration other’s perceptions of your work to influence their understanding, but in this case, the perception is held to a level where more likes equate to the idea of having more success. With this, my integrity as a creator is in question. Sometimes having it on social media also reduces the work as it becomes more about the image posted rather than its contents. As a community, we’ve subconsciously implemented a rigid structure to something that’s meant to be free.

In the creative industry itself, I do get the sense that a lot of works were created due to demand of clients, where hype and marketing is the base of it. Bono mentioned that, there were past installations that were commissioned to be an Instagram success, rather than to educate. To have this be revealed by a practicing artist is heartbreaking, as I have seen installations that were indeed Instagram success, but the works presented seemed to be ripped off from well known international artists. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but when searching for artist statements, there was nothing to be found. As a community, have we resulted to copying just for fame that is now equated as success?

With all this talk of looking at art through Instagram, ironically, I viewed all the works presented at Urbanscapes 2018 online, as I was unable to see it personally. I now question if I am actually looking at the work or the reduced representations of it as most of the images I saw were shots of people posing in the space. Mula as a platform also has a social media presence, so how does all this talk about art and Instagram exist then? Have we reduced art when it’s posted on our socials? Is this just a construct of the over-thinkers mind or is it something bigger we’re facing as advancing digital natives?