LOS ANGELES — The art world has a lot of feelings about Instagram. On a humid Saturday night in Los Angeles, the roving cultural hub ForYourArt spilled their #instaguts about it all through the Instagram Mini-Marathon. Curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, writer and curator Kevin McGarry, and ForYourArts’s Bettina Korek, the two-hour presentation offered 12 art world personalities an opportunity to present their Instagram feeds — either as feature or background. Some chose to discuss a random selection of individual screen grabs, while others presented more of a lookbook, and still others discussed Instagram as either a conceptual art project or public, visual sketchbook.
The premise of hosting the “mini-marathon” here was partially about tying Los Angeles, a place where visual culture becomes flattened, produced, and commodified, to the visual landscape of Instagram. “Is Instagram LA or is LA Instagram?” asked Kevin McGarry at the beginning of his Insta-marathon.
It was in LA that Hans-Ulrich Obrist took his first Instagram, thanks to the nudging of McGarry and artist Ryan Trecartin, who also showed him how to use it. Obrist loved it immediately, noting in his lecture that Instagram was like “having a gallery in your pocket,” a perfect tool for the constantly roving curator. (Much of Obrist’s Instagram feed shows notes in artists’ handwriting.)
Other presenters in the evening’s lineup took more nuanced approaches to Instagram, often straying far from the narcissism factor: artist Francis Stark’s 1,600 photos on the app operate as a sketchbook for her work. In her presentation, Stark also noted that today, “people learn to read in school but they don’t learn to decode images, which means that most people grow up visually illiterate.”
Performance artist BoyChild’s Instagram is full of selfies related to his performances, some with thousands of likes. For this artist, the amount of feedback he started receiving was startling. “In the beginning it was really personal. It got creepy as people followed you — people think they know you,” he said.
Conceptual artist Ryder Ripps discovered Instagram model Adrianne Ho, and started making oil paintings based on images of her that he mutated. With a pop, internet art feel to them, these paintings revel in the weird reality that such a model could exist solely through her Insta-image.
Artist Rachel Lord turned her Instagram presentation into a commentary on the way we give images away; in her performance, she auctioned off otherwise free Instagram posts while wearing a Peggy Noland logo mash-up dress, a garment covered with various corporate logos and suggesting both the emptiness of the American capitalist landscape and our willingness to proudly wear it, endorse it, and advertise on its behalf.
Hollywood-born Niko Karamyan, who onstage referred to himself as “a working-class kid from the Valley,” noted that his Instagram followers could literally “hold him in their hands,” noting how on Instagram we “become the stars in our own stories,” and then referred to Roland Barthes’s theory that the photo creates new social values. As fashion magazine-like images of Niko in the desert, forest, and in front of a palm tree background flashed across the screen, a rap song started playing, and didn’t end until this mini-marathon-turned-glamour-slideshow faded out. A star was born, again.
Toward the end of the presentation, images started sliding together and attention spans waned. The Instaglow had faded. Clearly, Instagram has not become the new Polaroid, even though that’s what it appeared to be in the early days when people just posted snapshots of their lives.
The Instagram Mini-Marathon took place on Saturday, July 26 at the Million Dollar Theater (302 S Broadway, Downtown, Los Angeles).