Suggested For You
Essay by Brandon Bandy
The explore feed on Instagram is the wild west, vast, wondrous, but I feel as though I’ve seen it before. Within this landscape is the Instagram Girl, a mystical figure who’s photographs and interactions are so carefully considered I begin to wonder about their existence in the natural world.This is the outcome of the democratization of image making, we can create our own image, a being separate from our own.This has lead the way for a sort of “no stakes” subcultural appropriation where all are free to pick and choose elements from various subcultures to enhance their own personality.TheThrasher t-shirt is emblematic of this phenomenon, previously reserved for those who skate it has become an autonomous symbol of cool.The fluidity of the Instagram Girl is nothing new but it feels contemporary, that is the result of these personas being archived, we can look at them in a grid, neatly organized for our observation. A biker girl one day, a cowgirl the next.
A teenage girl, a MacBook Pro, and a stolen copy of photoshop walk into a coffee shop
Is the democratization of images a blessing or a curse? I’m not old enough to know the difference. I was part of the first generation of teenagers on Instagram. I signed up
in May of 2011, I was 16. Coincidentally the same summer I bought my first camera, something about that feels serendipitous. Image is my primary concern, it’s all I know. In my work and in my life form always beats function. I’d rather look at a chair than be comfortable sitting in it, I’d rather make a seductive image than forgo aesthetics for concept. It’s kind of like bubblegum pop, you don’t have to be the best, you just have to look good doing it.
Cheating Scandals, Hollywood Beauties
I always had to go into the grocery store, mom was too paranoid to let me stay in the car. I looked forward to the magazines at the check out, she would be upset if she saw me looking, didn’t want me exposed to the evils of popular culture.Too many scandals in the Enquirer, too much cleavage in Cosmo.The tabloids were the main event, Juicy gossip. They cover all the stories, then cover them again. Chilling new evidence. Secrets Revealed. The way in which tabloids use images mirrors the democracy of the digital image.These images are inherently seductive, unavoidable, and tailored to our desires. Unbridled circulation, for eternity. Think Whitney Houston drug den Pusha T album cover. Originally taken by Whitney’s cousin, sold to the National Enquirer, published, recently sold to Kanye, it’s back in circulation, even more notorious than before.
My practice began with making photographs, evolved to appropriating images, and is now an intersection between the two. Originally teenage witch was a single image, a young woman standing amidst rubble wearing aThrasher t-shirt, a denim jacket, blue jeans, and white “western” boots. The goal was to create an image that could symbolize the Instagram Girl.The model is one, shifting personas like (and with) outfits. During a studio visit, a friend told me he didn’t realize I took the picture, “didn’t look like mine.”That was an epiphany, complicating authenticity was a way to create uncertainty in the viewer.
I am interested in the life of images, the circulation and distortion that occurs, the shifting contexts over time. A physical original is scanned, reprinted, sold on eBay, photographed, and printed again. A digital original is posted on Tumblr, reblogged, downloaded, reposted, downloaded, posted on Instagram, screenshotted, and reposted. Finding the original is near impossible, there’s too many copies that exist. We experience an image through its reproduction.This is particularly true of the Black Panther Party symbol.The original was drawn, and copied by hand, reinterpreted, changing slightly every new copy.The original panther looks nothing like what we now know.The copy has become standardized, turned into a vector, a perfectly repeatable copy, the image is forever altered.The Black Panther symbol you see in this work was purchased on Ebay, a vinyl decal created from a vector, a symbol of revolution converted into capital. And so the life continues, scanned, printed in this publication, then photographed, and posted online.The layering suggests the complications of history, in general as well as within the work.
While researching Connie Kreski for a previous show, I discovered she had been invited to theTate/Polanski home on the night of Sharon’s murder. (She declined the invitation) This generated interest in the Manson cult, history I had only previously known through tabloid covers. Manson’s hatred of the Black Panthers is one of the lesser known parts of the story, SharonTate’s murder was an attempt at igniting a race war, and this is almost equally forgotten as the existence of the White Panther party. (Which ironically sounds like a fringe white supremacist group, but in reality was a group of allies, primarily of punks in Michigan, formed at the suggestion of Huey P. Newton) Along side the multiplicity of symbol evolutions, the panther has been mistakenly used by a Connecticut high school as their mascot. Similar complications also arise with Princess Diana’s death. Was the crash due to the driver’s intoxication or the paparazzi’s ruthless obsession? The LaCroix can is shredded like the car, mimicking its form while censoring the image, both consumed by the public.
These anecdotes illuminate the endless slippage that has occurred both before and after the rise of the digital image. Slippage, between the images I create and collect, between digitally manifested fantasy and reality, and between the past and our reproduction of the past.The objective is to present these phenomenon and aesthetics free of vale judgment.
A critique of consumerism or of capitalism or of the “Instagram Girl,” would be a frivolous pursuit. Art cannot change these things, in many ways art has become these things. My first exposure to Amalia Ulman was through her 2017 show Dignity at James Fuentes. (Not through her Instagram performance Excellences & Perfections) The primary works in Dignity were two photographs, both depicting Ulman in a red carpet setting with photoshopped cum dripping down her face. These images of course mimic the millions of celebrity cumshot fakes that circulate on the internet. A review from ARTnews states “Ulman seems too content to mimic those images, without adding any commentary... What can that possibly solve?”But art doesn’t solve problems, and we too easily forget that the history of appropriation is founded on the principles of re-presenting conditions. “The work’s power lies in its blatant shallowness of meaning...the artist creates with a minimal investment; it is instant re-creation, re-contextualization” (Paul Black, Richard Prince: It’s A Free Concert)