Selfie-Self Portraits: An Interview with the Curators of NARGIFSUS

GIF courtesy of Faith Holland

GIF courtesy of Faith Holland

NewHive’s Curatorial Director, Lindsay Howard, speaks with Tina Sauerländer and Carla Gannis, the curators of NARGIFSUS, an online exhibition that brings together nearly sixty artists who are presenting “selfie-self portraits” in the form of animated GIFs. The exhibition launched on NewHive on Sunday March 20 here.

Can you talk about the evolution of this project, starting with Porn to Pizza–Domestic Clichés, the exhibition you curated at DAM Gallery in 2015? How are the themes from that exhibition, including privacy and personal comfort, connected to what’s now become the NARGIFSUS show?

Tina Sauerländer: The exhibition Porn to Pizza–Domestic Clichés is about how artists reflect the change of private comfort zones within the Digital and Internet Age. One of the show’s topics is the selfie culture, represented by works such as Hello Selfie by Kate Durbin or The Selfie Drawings by Carla Gannis. Both artists stage or instrumentalize their visual appearance to comment on selfie culture and to transfer a certain content or narrative that they have embedded themselves within. With the NARGIFSUS screening we decided to expand this topic inherent to Carla’s The Selfie Drawings to a broad group of international artists to see how they utilize their self or how they comment on selfie culture. We hybridized selfie and self portraits to make it relevant to Carla’s solo exhibition A Subject Self-Defined at TRANSFER Gallery (where NARGIFSUS first screened). In this exhibition she explored collisions and divergences in selfie culture and Internet vernacular with traditional portraiture and art historical tropes.

Carla Gannis: Based on Tina’s stellar curatorial practice, I approached her about working together on NARGIFSUS, a comprehensive survey of artist’s personal reflections on selfie culture and contemporary self portraiture. There’s a tradition at TRANSFER Gallery for artists to conclude their solo exhibitions with group GIF screenings. Artists included are asked to address a theme relevant to the solo show through a short moving image work. Tina and I wanted to take this IRL screening idea further, by also putting it online as an autonomous exhibition experience. We are thrilled to be working with NewHive and filling one of its virtual canvases with the works of 58 artists thinking critically about self expression and networked culture in the Digital Age.

How did you select the artists you’ve included in the exhibition?

TS: We invited a diverse group of international artists, working in new media, performance, photography, and interdisciplinary art. For some, it was their first time making a GIF! NARGIFSUS reflects our global networked society and links different artistic practices and approaches. NewHive’s blank spaces provide the best platform for us to arrange and curate a very special online GIF show.

CG: We began by making lists of artists and sharing them with each other. There were many overlaps in our lists, however we both also included artists not working specifically in new media or as GIF artists. It added another dimension to the curation, being introduced to and researching an artists’ work we had been unfamiliar with before. As a result of this pluralistic approach, there’s a broader perspective offered on artistic self(ie) reflection.

EVERET KANE_Nargifsus_500x281_Everett_KaneGIF courtesy of Everett Kane

Were the artists given specific direction for creating their “selfie-self portraits”? Did any of their responses surprise you?

CG & TS: We asked artists to submit “selfie-self portrait” GIFs. We supplied them with specifics in terms of file size and dimensions and some background info, otherwise the artists were given complete latitude in defining for themselves what an animated selfie-self portrait could be.

CG: I think our collapsing selfie and self portrait into one another lead to some really thought provoking work. Both Claudia Hart and Faith Holland portrayed themselves as Medusa, the Gorgon from classical mythology. While Lisa Levy included a gif of her current performance piece “The Artist is Humbly Present,” an appropriated version of Marina Abramović’s work. Here the artist, nude, sits on a toilet staring at visitors, likewise sitting on toilets. Also enlightening is artist Laurence Gartel’s submission of a “selfie” from the earliest days of computing, putting an entirely different framework around when the first selfie may have emerged.

TS: The broad variety of visual and contextual interpretations of the self is astonishing. Erica Lapadat-Janzen, Paul Hertz, Mathieu St-Pierre, Gretta Louw and Gaby Cepeda all fragment, dissolve or abstract their portraits in a multiplicity of ways. Emilio Vavarella ironically reflects on the discussion of authorship in animal selfies, Niko Princen’s red monochrome GIF unites several close up shots of his finger against the light of his friend’s phone camera who upload these “selfie prints” to Instagram (#nikoprincen).

LOVID AND DIA_Dlisah_selfieanimation_500GIF courtesy of LoVid Hinkis-Lapidus & Dia

What does this exhibition reveal about current attitudes toward selfie culture and self display?

CG: It certainly reveals that there are many diverse, and at points contrary positions, regarding selfie culture and self display. Artist Guido Segni occludes his face with a smart phone, its flash continually beaming, while he wears a t-shirt with the words “banality is overrated.” Photographer Susan Silas seems to address the narcissism alluded to in our title directly with a poignant gif of herself and her mirror reflection rotating around each other in an endless loop. La Turbo Avedon holds a sign in her selfie “thinking of you,” inverting the meaning we normally attach to a selfie, “thinking of me.”

TS: In the online exhibition at NewHive we often grouped the GIFs according to visual, structural or formal similarities so that the viewer can easily access, compare, contrast and examine the content relationally. Anthony Antonellis’s GIF reveals a view of his screen with different versions of his self portraits and is contrasted with Guido Segni’s face obscured continually by a camera flash, and Jennifer Chan’s GIF, that shows a cat looking in the mirror accompanied by the blinking slogan “low self esteem today”. It is very interesting to observe how differently men and women stage themselves. At least in our selection you won’t find a GIF by a male artist using his naked portrait, bust or body whereas many female artists do, such as Lisa Levy, Leah Schrager, Erica Lapadat Janzen, Jonny Star and Susan Silas. Personally I very much like the juxtaposition of the GIFs by Patrick Lichty and Shayna Hawkins: She stages real images of herself dancing whereas Patrick chose a male avatar.

Typically “selfies” are representations of the human form, but many of the works in the exhibition are abstractions. Has the term “selfie” become more about the expression of an internal self?

CG: I think for artists, who are preternaturally given to analyzing, questioning and often subverting the vernacular of networked culture, selfies are “old” enough now (in internet years) as a cultural practice to be reexamined. There is a “classical selfie aesthetic” that we found artists in this exhibition de-contextualizing, fragmenting or caricaturing. And yes, it seems many of these artists are more interested in expressing their self-hood through a more inner and abstracted gaze. The ubiquity of selfies today is leading artists to take a closer look at how one’s self-identity can be conveyed as a digital representation.

TS: It seems that after living for 20 years with and on the Internet we have all gotten used to the absorption of our virtual selves into our physical selves. Our identity is now a fusion of IRL and URL. The roles we play are hybridized and embedded simultaneously in multiple domains. Further, the self is not a single static entity anymore, but can be seen or used in many ways and variations dependent on the context. Both aspects reflect the works of NARGIFSUS.