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Six contemporary artists making a statement about social media

From surveillance to intimacy, these artists explore social media's influence on our day to day interactions

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Social media has proved to be an indispensable part of people’s everyday lives. We turn to social media for communicating, keeping up with news and events, quelling boredom, activism, marketing, and everything in between. This omnipresent force in our social lives has unsurprisingly become the subject of a range of contemporary artworks. Representations of social media in art can sometimes be overly critical—touching on themes of addiction, indulgence, and disengagement with the ‘real world’. The following artworks present an alternative perspective, highlighting the way social media has changed the way we interact with the world without berating it.

  • Words: Ikumi Cooray

01. ‘Hansel and Gretel’ by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron

Ai Weiwei has teamed up with Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to create an immersive installation that tackles the issues of surveillance and privacy in the age of social media. The site-specific installation is held at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Upon entering the gallery, visitors walk through several dimly lit hallways leading to the gallery’s main space, the Drill Hall. The Drill Hall is filled with a network of infrared censors and drones which track patrons’ movements and not only feeds the footage to various locations throughout the gallery, but also to an online live stream.

‘Hansel and Gretel’ prompts participants to think about their right to privacy. On a larger scale this means surveillance cameras and drones monitoring our movements, but on a smaller scale it also includes the fact that every man and their dog now has a camera phone that can be used to invade someone else’s privacy. If you want to check it out, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ will be exhibiting at Park Avenue Armory until August 6.

02. ‘The Artist is Kinda Present’ by An Xiao

An Xiao’s performance piece ran alongside Marina Abramovic’s ‘The Artist is Present’ at the MoMA in 2010. Viewers were invited to sit in front of Xiao and engage with her by sending a text or Tweet. Xiao responded to participants’ messages until they got bored or reached a ‘satisfactory connection’. There was a stark and perhaps purposeful contrast between Xiao and Abramovic’s works. While Abramovic wore all white and sat in a chair completely visible and exposed to participants, Xiao wore all black, including sunglasses, and was almost hidden behind the laptop and phone in front of her. Xiao’s piece speaks volumes about the way technology mediates our social connections and relationships, and contrasts between online and offline communication.

03. ‘Tinder Diaries’ by Audrey Jones

Similarly to Xiao’s exploration of social connections, Audrey Jones’ 2017 work dissects romance, intimacy, and the modern day courtship facilitated by dating apps. In a series of comics, Jones illustrates the brash, vulgar, and downright disgusting messages that are often sent and received on Tinder. By putting a face or body to each message, Jones highlights the aspect of digital communication that allows us to hide behind a screen and say things we might not otherwise say in person.

04. 'Tinder Project' by Jiyeon Kim

Tinder matches are also the subject of Jiyeon Kim’s ‘Tinder Project’. Kim paints portraits based on people’s Tinder profiles, painting them how she perceives them rather than how they’ve chosen to portray themselves. Kim’s work makes a statement about our carefully curated online personas and presents a “contemporary view of how we perceive ourselves on a daily basis”.

05. Embroidery work by Hanecdote

Hannah Hill, better known by her Instagram handle Hanecdote, has quickly gained an Internet following for her needlepoint work, which often features social media symbolism. A recurring theme in her work is the representation of contemporary social issues framed within the screen of an iPhone. These works demonstrate how modern communication devices can facilitate everything from body positivity, gender politicsunwanted dick pics and questionnable censorship policies.

06. ‘Emoji Nation’ by Nastya Ptichek

Nastya Ptichek’s work combines classical paintings with Emoji and other forms of online communication in a five-part series that explores the way social media has changed how we communicate and express ourselves. In part 2 of the series Ptichek superimposes online symbols over oil paintings by Edward Hopper. One painting depicts a man expressing affection with a kissing face Emoji above his head, while the woman next to him expresses uncertainty with the messenger ellipsis icon. The series reflects how real life emotions are played out online and the grey area that interesects the two. Part 4 focuses on error messages and combines them with Renaissance paintings to produce a humorous take on what these religious icons would say if they could communicate digitally. Ptichek’s work is all about communication, the way we interact with each other, and how social media has changed and influenced our interactions.