I have previously written about considering an exhibition for my project as I felt this could be a useful way of sharing the work with people that may not otherwise see it via an alternative method, e.g. photobook. However in reading the introduction of Emma Barker’s “Contemporary Cultures of Display”[i] I realise I should also consider how the act of exhibiting the work could affect the reading of the work. Barker writes that galleries and museums are not the “neutral containers, offering a transparent, unmediated experience of art” (Barker 1991) that they are thought to be, or claim to be. But instead the act of displaying works by a gallery/museum bestows on the works a status, a message that those works are worthy of being displayed. The inference being that other works, not being displayed, are not worthy of being included in the gallery/museum.
Barker also discusses Malraux’s concept of a museum without walls, “art for the masses” (Barker 1991). Malraux felt that photography, as an artistic tool for a museum without walls, decontextualizes objects by taking away “their original significance” and “their material specificity” (Barker 1991) (in terms of scale, size, texture, of an object etc.). Galleries/museums elevate objects to the status of ‘art’, but the museum without walls allows objects to have the same status.
I feel in today’s society this could well be applied to social media, as a form of a museum, or a gallery, without physical walls. Social media platforms like Instagram allow every image shared to have the same status and give them all the potential to be thought of as ‘art’, or all could be thought of as ‘not art’. The playing field is levelled to screen size, there aren’t the same restrictions to view the work as there are with physical exhibitions, and as Instagram is free users (viewers) aren’t required to pay to view the images as they would for a paid exhibition. Of course there are some restrictions, for example access to Instagram is not globally equal due to various economic, world finance, and technological reasons. But in comparison to a photograph displayed on a physical gallery wall there is more potential for a photograph to more widely viewed via social media.
It could also be argued that in today’s mass media society platforms like Instagram make it harder for images to be seen, or distinguished from, the sea of images. But my point here is that this form or wall-less gallery allows for the potential for images to be globally shared, and for them to be viewed without the ‘status’ and underlying messages of prestige (or pretention?) that follow traditional gallery wall exhibitions.
Exhibitions curated by a person, or team of people, display works with an agenda to communicate a pre-determined message. A multi-artist exhibition to show a particular theme or a solo exhibition to celebrate the artist. Either way exhibitions have an intended reading that viewers will most likely be aware of before viewing the works. Viewing an exhibition isn’t necessarily viewing the works as intended by the artist, but viewing the intention of the curator(s).
Viewing photographs on social media platforms, allows for images to be read without the intention of a gallery curator behind them, (if displayed on the account of the artists rather than a gallery's social media account). However is this a good or a bad thing for the artist? Whether viewers will read the photographs with any of the intended meaning of the artist will still depend on how it is shared; the text accompanying the image, or lack of text, as well as who sees it and their own individual knowledge and experiences will still play a part in how someone interprets an image (as discussed in previous weeks CRJ posts). There is also the risk that without the gallery display status, people will dismiss images on social media as just another photo, and they won’t really look at the image for any length of time, or really consider what it is they are looking at.
The status of a gallery display implies that a photograph is ‘art’, and this labelling sets the photograph aside from other images. As Barker (1991) writes, the status of ‘art’ being assigned to a object sets it “apart from the more mundane concerns of society” (Barker 1991). Art is seen as something creative, something different from the monotony of everyday life. However as I am trying to show the authentic realities of life for female surfers in the UK, if I were to exhibit them would that imply the images are ‘art’ and therefore not of the real-world? Would it be presumed that the images aren’t showing something authentic, but are staged images to create ‘art’, and therefore counteract that aim of the project? Perhaps a solution here would be to exhibit in a non-traditional gallery setting. I don’t think display of images automatically equals viewing those images as ‘art’, but I think displaying them in an art gallery would imply they are ‘art’, and not necessarily images that document a reality.
On the other hand, as Barker also pointed out, the physical display of images may well encourage viewers to “stop and contemplate” (Barker 1991) what they are looking at. By changing the method of viewing images from quickly scrolling through social media, to slowing down the process by showing them in real life, this may facilitate people really considering what the images are showing, and not just dismissing them as more social media images. This could help people to really consider the realities of female surfers against what is portrayed in the media and advertising.
[i] Barker, Emma. 1991. 'Introduction' in Contemporary Cultures of Display New Haven/London: Yale University Press/The Open University