My wander through London at the weekend not only led me to discover the start of Chelsea in Bloom, but right in the middle of it I found the Saatchi Museum. The free museum is just off Sloane Square, and the current exhibition is all about ‘selfies’, the full title being ‘From Selfie to Self-Expression’. With the selfie taking over the world in recent times, I was actually really interested to see how this display could manage to fill an entire museum, and keep people interested since March, through to the end of May.
I’m not really one for a lot of selfies personally, definitely not of just myself, and I’ve never in my life shared a mirror #ootd. Mirror photos yes, I’m guilty, usually in a cocktail bar ladies bathroom (classy), or a Vegas lift ceiling, but never on my own. Don’t get me wrong, if I looked like a bloody supermodel I absolutely would, and I do enjoy seeing other people’s, there’s no hate from me. Snapchat may just be the exception, because who hasn’t, and at least they’re short lived.
So, I wasn’t really sure what to expect at the Saatchi, surely it wasn’t just a load of Kim K’s because I get quite enough of that from Instagram ta very much, but it actually turned out to be really good. After reading back through what I’m about to say, it turns out I really ended up getting quite into it, so apologies for the waffle!
Going in to the museum you’re directed left into the first gallery, and you’re met with the likes of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, and their historic ‘selfies’ that took a lot longer to construct with a lick of paint and a brush than a quick snap of an iPhone camera. Their painted self portraits adorn the walls of this first room, but through a modern medium. They’re not prints, and they definitely aren’t the originals, instead they’re displayed through giant iPad lookalike screens, complete with the ability to Instagram ‘like’, and a running total visible next to them.
Yup, they’ve managed to turn ancient pieces of art into a selfie popularity competition. And as well as that, they’ve given everyone the chance to interact and touch the displays. Unheard of in a museum so naturally everyone there were throwing ‘likes’ out left right and centre.
Ah yes, the ‘like’ feature. Do you give photos the ol’ double tap because you feel like you have some sort of relationship obligation to, or because you genuinely like them? Instagram has definitely blurred the lines between the two (can just hear the uni lectures on this very topic and some poor sod ploughing away at their dissertation while surviving on red bull, pro plus and two hours sleep literally as I type).
I’m 100% a mix of the two. I could like photos of beautiful places, pretty doorways, a big fat donut, a gorgeous cocktail all day long for example and never get tired of it. Then there’s the ones that for some political relationship reason you have to like. The 500th photo of your long lost family friend’s dog/baby/house/car/whatever else. I’m getting a lot better at just not bothering, but it’s a conscious decision and one that does stop me in my tracks on the evening scroll through. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that everyone can and should post whatever they want on their own social media, but there are ‘like’ politics around it.
Then again I also genuinely do like my friends photos, especially when they’re happy and having a laugh, or proud of something or celebrating. But I don’t just give my likes out willy nilly. So sorry Vincent Van G, and Rembrandt, you did not get my like.
From this first room, I sort of expected the exhibition to be along the lines of selfies through the ages, but it wasn’t at all. Suddenly the galleries became a total mish mash of different types of selfies. I’m sure there’s some thought out reason behind this from the museum curators, but I didn’t buy the £15(!) guide to find out, I just enjoyed them.
The next room had more old selfies, Freud was one, and Andy Warhol was another, and then there was an entire grid of a semi naked woman showing off herself, all thrown into the same room. You’re suddenly very aware of what you actually do see on Instagram, when it’s no longer in that context. I overheard one girl say, is it too much to share that on Snapchat? Well clearly not because the lass in the picture doesn’t seem to mind her naked body from every which angle out there! She wasn’t what you might be thinking either, she had captured her rolls, her cellulite, literally warts an’ all, the little sass pot. Fair play to her.
The next room was totally different again. An entire room of wall to wall live streams happening on the internet in real time. Hundreds of thousands of them, all people chatting into a camera wanting to be heard. The contrast in those original paintings to the live, real time video feature is very obvious at this point. The written plaque explaining, called the huge visual installation ‘Hello World! Or: How I learned to stop listening and love the noise’, intending to highlight the ‘fundamental human desire to be heard’. Quite ironic really, which I’m sure is the point, considering it was literally just a load of noise.
Obviously there can’t be a selfie exhibition without the Kardashians, and they featured in the next gallery, alongside the infamous Ellen Oscar’s selfie, Harry Styles, Mr Bean, Leo, Rihanna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The difference with this room is that the photos are all photos of them all taking photos of themselves. You following?
Then there were the extreme selfies, the first astronaut in space, the hanging off the tallest buildings in the world, and running with the bulls in Spain. All risk takers in the name of the selfie, and the need to be the first.
The manipulated selfies were some of my favourites, where the artist had photoshopped and altered people like the Royal Family and Donald Trump to look like they were taking selfies. These are obvious, but how many selfies are altered these days, how many actually are real? There’s a reason why facetune is so popular….just saying. HOW MANY photoshop fails do we see, and love to take through the mud? I see you Lil Bow Wow and you’re fake private jet to NYC! They’re all there in this Saatchi selfie show.
One room I did find really fascinating was of a woman who’s name I totally can’t remember, but I covered as part of my own dissertation years ago. I wrote about how women are portrayed in the media, and how they portray themselves, and this woman basically documented her partner’s physical abuse through selfies. The photos are pretty brutal so I didn’t take it, but this whole idea of breaking the mould and being open about taboo subjects has been around a lot longer than we actually realise. A definite positive of social media and the selfie, in my opinion.
There are also some very interactive and lighthearted galleries to enjoy, including a mirror matrix that takes your selfie from every single angle, a moving pom pom mirror that reflects the person stood in front of it, and a selfie mirror that turns your face to smoke. Read into that what you will because the options are endless.
Lastly, there was a brilliant, sellotape selfie, which for those who don’t know requires you to wrap sellotape around your face to completely distort it and from experience in my friend Lucy’s kitchen about ten years ago, is absolutely hysterical. Try it!
I think I like self portraits because I’ve always liked real art. I have no time for all the abstract carry on, I just don’t get it. I like things to look real, so glossy magazines and beautiful photos just work for me, which is why I will continue to follow Gigi Hadid, Rihanna and even Kim Kardashian.
My ability to draw people is what basically got me through A level art, because I was shite at the rest of it, and while I may photograph places and scenery more than anything else these days, my backlog of photographs of all my friends and family dates as far back as I can remember. Well worth it to look back on when all these 30th birthdays have come round and we’re all rolling out the typical birthday collage! Who needs time hop?!
So overall the Saatchi Selfie experience was a lot of fun, very thought provoking and interesting, and not at all what I expected. It’s only there for another week, so get yourselves along if you can.
*** This post was scheduled to go live before I woke up to the awful news from Manchester. I thought about not sharing it today, because in the grand scheme of things how important are selfies when families lost their children last night? But I’m sharing it anyway, because little things like selfies and going to museums and music concerts are part of our way of life, and that won’t ever change due to terrorism. All the love in the world to Manchester and those affected.