DIS puts the art in #artselfie

When Duchamp proclaimed that the observer completes a work of art, he probably wasn’t speaking in the most literal sense. Yet, a hundred years later, his quote is cited in the introduction to #artselfie, a new book out by New York-based collective and...

by Hannah Ghorashi
27 November 2014, 5:45am

DIS, who, in their own words, facilitate "projects for the most public and democratic of all forums — the internet," consider themselves the guardians rather than creators of the #artselfie hashtag. It originated during the Frieze London art fair in 2012, when the group commissioned friends to take selfies in front of a Ryan Trecartin installation. The same year, DIS created artselfie.com, a Tumblr account that was originally intended for their Art Basel coverage but quickly turned into an archive for over 13,000 photos tagged with #artselfie on Instagram. Its tagline reads, "Go see art. See yourself in art. Let us see you see you."

Like its #nofilter or #myfirstpaycheck peers, the #artselfie is a self-explanatory variation on the ubiquitous selfie; its qualifying factor is the photographer/subject's proximity to an artwork, whether that work is Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, MoMA's 2013 "Rain Room" installation, or really anything Instagrammers deem worthy of the hashtag. DIS answered our questions about #artselfie from Berlin, where they were preparing for their curatorship of the 2016 Berlin Biennale. We talked about sexual tension, mass narcissism, social compulsions, and taking #artselfies with #noregrets.

How did the #artselfie hashtag come about? Do you view this book as an aggregate of a viral hashtag or as a project that you had some control over?
The hashtag itself transpired organically, we weren't the first to use it! At Frieze London 2012, for our commissioned Frieze Project, we documented booths in the fair, using them as stages for potential situations with extensive casting — breastfeeding mothers, hot art-handler/gallerist sexual tension, a collector in cardiac arrest, etc. One shot took place in Ryan Trecartin's solo installation at Andrea Rosen's booth, in which we had friends of ours like Amalia Ulman, Zaina Miuccia, and a few others take selfies. They all had their backs against the installation, and were only looking at themselves. This very real phenomenon sparked our desire to create artselfie.com as an aggregate of everyone's #artselfies. In order to make this come to life we promoted the hashtag — and this book is a filtered representation of what happened after that.

There are so many different things people can incorporate into a selfie — there's the after-sex selfie, the drone selfie, etc. But these types of selfies haven't been compiled into a book. What makes the #artselfie different?
Hmmm, do people show who they had sex with in an after-sex selfie? That might be the difference. A drone #artselfie would work very well for Richard Serra pieces or large scale earth-art.

What do you think makes people want to take non-basic selfies — as in, selfies with something notable in the background?
An #artselfie is more of a social act indexing one's self to a signifier, the way one might with a celebrity or a travel destination. Beyond just being there, and being next to someone, you inherently acquire something (meaning, status) from your selfie companion. It's a mode of communication, and a compulsion that's (tragically) unavoidable.

Have you taken any #artselfies yourselves?
Sure, we take the occasional #artselfie. It's the kind of thing you do without really thinking, it's almost accidental. No regrets.

Which photos stand out to you?
More than individual images, the trends and data that arise out of the mass of imagery brings out questions. What happens in the transference from an artwork into an #artselfie - out of context, extremely low res, and obscured by a duck-faced Instagrammer? What role does the art play when it becomes a colorful or reflective surface for the perfect selfie backdrop? Some art, in fact, seems to be made for the selfie, while other works evade photograph-ability. Richard Prince exhibits selfies, while Cady Noland embargoes any and all documentation.

I saw that the intro to the book cites Duchamp, who said, "The observer completes the work of art." Do you think art will require this kind of self-awareness in the future?
The #artselfie is not as specific to the world of art as it is emblematic of larger cultural phenomenons of mass narcissism, validation, compulsive connectivity, and a sense of experiencing the world through others experiencing you experience it. It's also built on an altered sense of ownership and object-relations seen through the internet's many applications — as Brad Troemel wrote regarding Tumblr back in 2010, "we're not over objects — it's just more efficient to identify with them in the absence of their bulky presence."

Why did you end up releasing with a Parisian publisher?
Jean Boite actually came to us with this idea! They're a super interesting new publishing company with a lot of great books. They work in "boxes," with each series of books holding a common thread. This first series, including Jon Rafman's The Nine Eyes of Google Street View book, consist entirely of images culled from the internet. We're happy to be part of this publishing context! 


Text Hannah Ghorashi

art selfie
jean boite