On December 4 at Art Basel Miami Beach, I was part of a panel titled "Instagram as an artistic medium," along with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Klaus Biesenbach, Simon de Pury, and Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram.
I gave a presentation about my project Excellences & Perfections [recently presented as part of the First Look online exhibition series], a carbon copy of a talk previously given at the ICA. After my presentation, the talk became pure propaganda and the words "genuinely," "self-expression," "creativity" and "community" were mentioned without further discussion. The panel ended with Systrom saying that the platform he had created was a tool for users to be authentic.
For several weeks before the panel, Rob Horning and I had been having the following conversation on Google Drive, which deals with many of these topics. —Amalia Ulman
Ed.: Perhaps it's a little backwards to make the artist start the interview, but I thought it might work this time. What do you think?
AU: I think Rob should start; he doesn't know me, so he might have a few questions…?
Ed.:I think that's a good idea.
R: I will do some more background reading today, and return with some questions. Also, I will be this serif font for the purposes of this conversation.
Okay, I will be using this blue one—also printing some of your writings today to read through/ take notes.
Trying to get it together but need more time. I have to finish a few other things today, then I can give this my full attention tomorrow! I think I want to talk about the sort of narcissism that makes it hard for me to conduct interviews, and what that has to do with performing the self on social media—an endless interview with no interviewers and competing interviewees projecting the questions they want to answer onto an audience that may already be largely preoccupied with questions they were wishing to be asked. What keeps interviews from being performances—what can define them outside that sphere, if anything? The tactical presentation of self in social media makes the genre conventions of the Q&A suspect; we don't presume we are getting straight answers, but instead "straight answers"—a calculated pose that evokes the reified sensation of sincerity. Yet the more aggressively one tries to convey sincerity, the more cartoonish one's behavior seems to become. All the old tropes of sincerity can't withstand the foregrounding of self-construction in social-media profiles, and the way these are increasingly used to mediate reputation. Maybe this is why sad earnest types are always pleading for "new sincerity" while seeming to epitomize the ultimate nadir of insincerity. Being boring no longer connotes sincerity (or the absence of irony, which is wrongly equated with sincerity). Danger is the new sincerity.
Can one write revealingly about narcissism in a narcissistic way, or is that like trying to convey the emotion of boredom by writing sentences so boring that no one can tolerate reading them and instead finds more interesting things to do? Is there an interesting way to be boring? Is that the ultimate goal on Facebook? Is that the end Facebook has been engineered to make users pursue, given that being boring is the safest way to protect oneself from accusations of being craven or narcissistic?