I never fail to be amazed, shocked and entertained by the work that the British art scene manages to spawn each year. I would honestly contest that no other nation manages to instil such a sense of the bizarre in its modern art while still maintaining a profound idea behind it; I suppose this is something uniquely ‘British’. I was in London over the weekend, and while dutifully attending the usual haunts (the National Gallery, the TATE, etc), two smaller exhibitions caught my attention, both united by their sheer peculiarity.
The first, entitled The National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, is an exhibition dedicated to the modern photographic phenomenon that is the selfie. Before the digital revolution, each individual had two facets to their person: the public and the private. But now we have a third: the virtual self; and our propensity to ‘update’ this third part is becoming an obsession, an uncontrollable fetish. Selfies are the most illicit epitome of this, with those responsible creating a narcissistic and heavily manipulated vision of oneself.
The curators, Kyle Chaya and Marina Galperina present an installation consisting of rotating short selfie videos (à la Instagram). But these aren’t the tedious, cringe-inducing selfies that we witness daily on Facebook or Instagram. The curators chose selfies which are self-critical; they challenge the idea of a selfie as a medium.
The individuals shown in the works, those guilty of committing the heinous crime of selfie, are all contemporary artists themselves, who agreed to participate in the project. It is the first exhibit of its kind to critically examine such a medium of personal and digital expression, and somewhat elevates the medium to perhaps even that of self-portraiture.
Before I offend lovers of ‘traditional’ portraiture, let me state that the only real difference between it and selfies is the amount of time required. Selfies are immediate and improvised, whereas the former is laborious and heavily planned. It is this sense of self-awareness, however, that links selfies to classical self-portraiture: the impulse behind firstly choosing to depict oneself through art, and ultimately the allure of personal manipulation. Dare I ask, if Rembrandt were alive today, would he have taken a selfie?
Elsewhere in London, another bizarre photographic exhibition deals with a group of society that has been persecuted, ostracised and ignored: gingers. Red Hot by Thomas Knights (a redhead himself), has photographed for Italian Vogue and argues that he feels there is still a stigma attached to being ginger. He feels that redheaded men in particular are emasculated, de-sexualised and underrepresented across film, television and literature; playing ‘nerdy’, weak roles, as opposed to leading ones.
This exhibition presents a vision of beautiful, heavily eroticised and masculine redhead men, featuring photographs of ginger men from various London modelling agencies. Attempting to rebrand the hair colour while making a political and anti-bullying statement, the photographer argues that “we have been conditioned to think ginger men are ugly and weak.” Indeed, it appears senseless to think that something as trivial as hair colour has resulted in such a cultural exclusion and inequality within society, and this exhibition makes us question the preconceived ideas we have of ginger men.
The National #Selfie Portrait Gallery is on at London’s Moving contemporary Art Fair.
Red Hot is showing in the East End’s Gallery on Redchurch Street (ironically), and you can also find the exhibition’s page on facebook.com/redhotexhibition.