From Selfie to Self-Expression at Saatchi Gallery
“Selfie” – the OED word of the year for 2013 – has become something of an icon in itself, a metonym for a generation characterised by anxious, rampant narcissism.
The title of this exhibition at the Saatchi gallery pits the diminutive term “Selfie” against that of the highfalutin “Self-Expression”; however, the show is a story of communion rather than collision from the outset. The Old Masters are transposed to new media as canonical self-portraits of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Kahlo are presented on screens as Instagrams. Viewers are free to express their affirmation by tapping “like” on an adjacent smartphone.
This overt demonstration of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is a gimmick, but it is unapologetically so. Much of the success of this exhibition derives from its celebration of the shallow. To the same superficial end, curation is minimal – images are left to speak for themselves.
One of the most staggering features of this sprawling display is the sheer proliferation of images. The layout follows a rough chronology and as the viewer witnesses the rapid advancement of technology, so too do they confront an abundance of imagery. Nowhere is this clearer than when being dwarfed by Christopher Baker’s Hello World! Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise (2008) in which an entire gallery swells with tiled webcam videos of people performing to their camera. Though each video is individually unremarkable, the accumulation is overwhelming.
As visitors consume to the point of gluttony, the subject matter becomes the lust for fame and the cult of celebrity. The viewer is bombarded by the familiar iconography of Kim Kardashian, of politicians taking selfies and celebrities capturing themselves on the red carpet. In a final moment of contemplation, these are juxtaposed with Alison Jackson’s staged celebrity selfies, which perfectly parody their “genuine” precursors. It is here that the wry wit of this exhibition is asserted.
An innovative and compelling exploration of the Self(ie), the show balances the surreal and hyperreal throughout. The result is a story not of decay, but rather of an ironic detachment from the pursuit of the genuine.
Photo: Saatchi Gallery
From Selfie to Self-Expression is at the Saatchi Gallery from 31st March until 23rd July 2017, for further information visit here.