#Instagram #Instapoetry #Instaart – Engaging with Visual Culture

Image Works - Instagram Symposium

What better thing to do on a stormy Saturday than consider how Instagram might be influencing our perceptions of ourselves, our art or culture? The Image Works symposium provided an opportunity to do just that. And it’s also made me realise just how versatile social media can be, as a platform for artists, poets and researchers to engage with and potentially subvert social norms in an interactive digital space.

Authenticity, Performance, Instapoetry and Feminism

Talking about Rupi Kaur

Dr Cadence Kinsey spoke about Excellences & Perfections, a performance art piece created by artist Amalia Ulman in 2014, who posted photos of herself going through three phases of life – ‘cute girl’, ‘sugar baby’ and ‘life goddess’ – over a period of several months, revealing these at the end of the project as fictional, and questioning our perceptions of authenticity. I am fascinated by this project. What makes this art, if everyone is carefully curating their Instagram posts? Surely all social media posts contain some degree of fiction and performance?

Dr Alexandra Kingston-Reese spoke about Rupi Kaur, the most well-known Instapoet, who currently has 3.9 million followers. Her feed contains short poems and photos, usually in the form of selfies. While her simple poems are readable and accessible for a young audience, literary critics have said that her work is simplistic and superficial.

rupi kaur poem

Dr Kingston-Reese suggested that her work could be read as ‘pop poetry’, resisting the traditional, masculine critical technique of ‘close reading’ and embracing a feminist position, opening her words out to include those who have previously been marginalised. I don’t particularly enjoy Rupi Kaur’s poems, but I am intrigued by the concept of Instapoetry, and the possibilities this creates for combining image and text, creating accessible poetic forms.

Subverting the Norms of Instagram

One of the posts from Object Women

One of the posts from Object Women

It was interesting to hear the speakers discuss the notion that Instagram perpetuates cultural norms. If your posts conform to popular formats, you gain more followers, while those who explore alternative perspectives or subvert expectations become hidden. Despite this, several of the speakers talked about projects which have made use of Instagram in unusual ways, as a way to archive or reveal the past, or encouraging people to interact and share their own experiences.

Dr Alix Beeston’s Object Women project involved posting archival photographs alongside short pieces of text on Instagram, exploring the representation of women in the past, questioning our ideas about power dynamics, and presenting women as both subject and object. Celia Jackson’s project was a more personal re-imagining of her own family photo albums, and the artist Huw Alden Davies talked about using Instagram to promote interaction and collaboration with his audience. We also heard about the photo-library platform Photocaptionist, created by Federica Chiocchetti to promote and celebrate work that combines image and text.

Michal Iwanowski talked about his recent photography project Go Home Polish, where a piece of graffiti inspired him to set off on a journey back to the place where he was born, posting photographs and stories along the way as he explored the notion of ‘home’. He added other people’s stories too. Here is one that reflects on the story of a drowned village…

One of the posts from 'Go Home Polish'

One of the posts from ‘Go Home Polish’

Iwanowski created lightboxes to display the project in a gallery setting, so that the original comments and reactions to his Instagram posts could be viewed alongside the photographs. These lightboxes are to be acquired, alongside several of his prints, by the National Museum of Wales – the first Instagram-based artwork that they have added to their collections, posing all sorts of questions about display and preservation.

The Potential of Instagram

This symposium has made me re-think my own use of social media. I’m already considering how I could use Instagram in new and different ways. In the meantime, here is a link to my current Instagram feed, full of books, poems, nature and events. You may also be interested to read this conversation between Alix Beeston, Alexandra Kingston-Reese and Cadence Kinsey published by the ASAP Journal, where they discuss the intimacy and immediacy of Instagram.