Last Thursday I visited the exhibition “Ego Update” at NRW-Forum, Düsseldorf. I was lucky to have Ute Vogel as company who is a great blogger herself and of the three German “Herbergsmütter” for which she realizes awesome interactive projects for public institutions. I was very curious because the exhibition was advertised as such:
The fundamental human question of “Who am I?” leads to the question of “Who do I want to be?” (or “Who should I be?”). This issue – which involves philosophy, economics, morals, theology and politics in equal measure – manifests itself in societal, political and cultural modes of expression. Within the network that exists now, self-image is far more defining than was the case in pre-digital days. The digital self is agile, active, creative and becoming more artistic all the time. In a selfie, real life is transferred to a stage; aphorisms and comment collide on Twitter; Internet videos feature monologues, dance shows and performances; Internet memes alter the context of pictures through the addition of text. Nowadays, everyone is in a position to project whatever virtual image they wish. At the same time, there is also a need to talk ‘as oneself’, especially within the digital cultural space. The true self cannot resist the urge to divulge, ignoring – or simply accepting – the problems of data protection and personal rights.
I knew I just had to see it and write about it. Still most of the exhibitions I saw lately were rather boring in their presentation form. Curators seem to be less experimental these days what is a shame to be honest. That’s a reason I loved the lichtsicht biennial so much I guess. Art needs more than a White Cube, art needs experiments and new forms of presentation to touch people and disturb them. Art can be beautiful and I absolutely adore it when it is but at the same time it has to be more as pure beauty. And I have to say we had a lot of fun in Düsseldorf. The exhibition is very interactive and invites you to explore most of the works. Suiting the topic there were also mirrors everywhere and you were invited to take pictures and selfies. They even have a selfie box which prints out your instagram pictures. Very rare in a museum.
More important the exhibition made me think about art in general again. Something which became pretty rare for me, too. As an art historian your way of seeing art changes a lot over the years. You might think in terms of good and bad art but the question what art is just randomly comes to your mind. So this exhibition made it happen for me again. The magical wonder you can feel if you see something and it disturbs you in different ways. I believe it’s the way children look into the world and wonder about it in general. So for me the exhibition is less about the question how the digital world changed the way we see ourselves but about the question why something is art when it’s presented in a museum by an artist. Why is an instagram picture by an artist art but not when posted by a “normal” person. What’s the difference? And what do we accept as art today? I have no easy answer to those questions that’s part why they fascinate me and make me think about art again. I will present you the art works I liked the most and then you can decide for yourself what you think of them! (There’re 23 international artists involved in the exhibition so you still have to see it yourself if you want to know all about it.)
My favorite pieces
A female ape stole the camera of photographer David Slater and made selfies with it. It’s interesting how human the monkey looks on all the pictures. It evokes the old question what “human” means when we think about it and how far we truly are from animals and they’re from us. Another interesting fact is that there is a law suit going on between Slater and Wikimedia. Wikimedia were using one of Slaters’s images without his permission on their Commons site – a collection of several millions of images and video files that are free to use by anyone online. Until today they claim the monkey owns the copyright to the world-famous image. I am very interested in the outcome and the decision of court. It might redefine what we understand as copyright.
Oliver Sieber explored the international phenomenon of Cosplay for which people dress up as their favorite character of games, movies, mangas or animes. Normally cosplayers would meet at events and share their passion. Sieber took pictures of them in their home and shows them in their “normal” environment where they appear totally out of place. It’s an interesting approach and shows that the different parts of our identity clearly belong to certain environments.
The series of Robbie Cooper is similar but explores the identity we seek online. He made photographs of people and combined them with the avatar they choose in online multiplayer games. I find this more interesting because an avatar is totally different compared to a cosplayer role. A lot of men choose female avatars for example which is an interesting fact. People often choose to be someone totally different in online games but still put a lot of effort in the design of their avatar. But I don’t know what that might say about them, that’s probably a questions for psychologists or sociologists.
The series Stranger Visions by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material collected in public places. It’s very political and mighty scary. Honestly it’s so creepy to think about what’s possible today. Next to the heads of the strangers you see a sample box with the used object, a picture where it was found and a description of the exact place. The technique is already used by police forces in the States and it will be all around the world in no time I guess. Of course it’s tempting to think about the possibilities for serious crimes as rape and murder but we all know that technology is always used for much more than that. This goes much further as George Orwell would have ever imagined.
A long time before selfies became popular and the internet was filled with millions of them every day German photographer Jonas Unger gave celebrities a quicksnap camera and asked them to take a picture of themselves. I really enjoyed to see that selfies are not so much an internet phenomenon but a human one.
The photographs by Andreas Schmidt were one of my absolute highlight in the exhibition. He used the series “Real Fake Art” by Michael Wolf, who took pictures of Chinese copyists and their paintings, to insert the original painters face. If you don’t know it you would never guess. It’s such a great idea and really really funny if you ask me.
Even more fake are the photographs of Alison Jackson who uses Doppelgangers of famous people to create intimate pictures of celebrities. Some of them seem blurry which makes them even more realistic. The only hint you get they’re fake is that most of the pictures would never been taken. There is just no way I could imagine the English royal family to take a selfie while they’re in a bath tub. But seeing those fake celebs doing stupid things in front of a camera shows you how truly understandable some images are you see on most instagram accounts.
Last but not least – shopping
Visiting a museum always includes checking out the museum shop, at least for me. Museum shops can be a great inspiration and source for awesome present and stuff you never knew you wanted. Most have a great variety of books and design you find nowhere else unless you live in a big city like New York or London. The best thing is that they change the variety of products with every exhibition. The shop at NRW-Forum had – no surprise – a big variety of selfie and photo equipment. I didn’t buy anything but I saw some things what could be great presents for my photo crazy friends.