How can Instagram function as an online exhibtion?

Online exhibitions are on the rise, especially since many undergraduates in their final year are seeking alternative arrangements, using sketch up instead to recreate their spaces in order to digitally install works. I am curious to see how we will navigate these digital spaces, much like IRL perhaps, where we choose what artworks we see, for how long, and in what level of detail. Musicians have turned to live streaming performances, and arts organisations are hosting their workshops and talks over zoom or live-stream. 

As I scroll through Instagram mindlessly, my brain processing hundreds of photographs, the volume of artworks carrying me on a wave of connection, exploration, and creativity, I am overwhelmed with the sheer number galleries and collectives that are opening up their websites or social media accounts to ‘takeovers’, residencies, and exhibitions. Whilst it must be vastly disappointing to just have installed a show, only to have it immediately closed down, the public not able to view it, it must be a small piece of hope to be able to share your thoughts and processes to an audience in a way that would never be accessible in a ‘regular’ exhibition. We often only get to see the finished result, the artwork that makes it to the space in that specific way. We don’t ever get to see the work in process or know all the thoughts behind it, even in the press release, which is often written by someone entirely separate to the artist themselves, doesn’t give us this insight.

I feel like exhibitions are mostly for artists to showcase themselves and their work, something to add to the CV to get the next exhibition and a paycheck (although, I’m not really talking from experience bc no one has ever paid me to show my art). The fun comes in the making of it, the fulfilment comes in the having made it. The exhibition is proof that I did something with my time other than be unemployed. And, I think Instagram works in the same way. It’s a platform to sell yourself really, to showcase yourself, or your product (whether that is your drawings or your face or your lifestyle, or all, as is often the case). Like an exhibition, the work all happens behind the scenes, and Instagram is the thought through presentation of it to an (often unknown) audience.

Instagram residencies often take the form of an online curation of the artist’s practice. Although we are maybe seeing the day to day life of the studio, these are still carefully selected and curated images and / or texts that the artist has chosen to show with us. It does not bear a similarity to the more general daily life of being an artist, as you don’t showcase what you’ve been getting up to every day with someone. Like at art school, I saw my tutor every fortnight, and, other than that, I didn’t show anyone my work or discuss it with them, maybe another student from time to time but that’s about it. But, since sharing our practices online, even the process of creating is tailored to our followers. A chance for likes, which undoubtedly would affect the movement and growth of a work. Whereas we are used to hour long conversations with another wherein we explore and question, do our practices get shunted around through a millisecond brain process on whether to double tap, or an algorithm as to how many people’s feeds your image comes up on?

Individual Instagram accounts can function as a sort of sketchbook, like a sharing of things you find, images you take, what you like, like you would in something physical. But thru the process of ‘posting’, it gets curated in some way. Maybe not how we normally think of curation as position paintings and sculptures in a white cube space, but white cube spaces have been around for a relatively short amount of time, and I think we could argue that curation has been around for a lot longer, and extends to more things. Not just art, but a curation of the self. Since individual accounts are ‘curated’, an exhibiting of the self and the self’s product, I think our entire ‘feed’ is the ‘others’ exhibiting of their self to us. We choose who we follow, and we build our algorithm by who we interact with through likes, comments and messages, so, we are curating our Instagram feeds. And, essentially, we are curating an exhibition that is specifically tailored to us and only we get the chance to see in this way. For sure, other’s might see a lot of similar works, but maybe in a different order, and amongst other things: a picture of loo roll, a self-isolation selfie, a stack of books, a painting, a sculpture, someone’s sketchbook, someone’s workshop, #throwbackthursday, and a cat. And now, with more and more artworks being shared online, my feed becomes an amalgamation of artworks from around the world, in different time zones and geographies.

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