The Art or the Selfie

The Art or the Selfie


Do these tags look familiar? Since its inception at the National Gallery of Singapore on 9 June, Yayoi Kusama’s Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow exhbition has drawn a huge number of Singaporeans, all keen to get a glimpse into the infintely colorful mind of the Japanese artist.

Waves of photos of the exhibition have been flooding social media pages like Instagram and Facebook.“The Spirits of Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens”, “All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever”, and “Infinity Mirrored Room: Gleaming Lights of the Souls” are just some of the highlights of the exhibition. With a hope that her art will be able to bring hope to the lives of others, the exhibition features her signature style of infinity net and dots, pumpkin motifs and infinity mirror rooms. These works showcase Kusama’s story, and tells of her past and her dreams, her view on life. They were a way for her to work through her struggles, including her mother’s physical abuse, and hallucinations she experienced since she was a child.

With all the social media posts sharing photos of rooms filled infinitely with pumpkins, dots and lights, Kusama’s exhibition has become viral, and one of the most visited art exhibitions in Singapore. By sharing photographs of Kusama’s artwork to the world through social media, interest in generated and people are inspired to visit the exhibition to see the artwork for themselves, which is, of course, a great joy to any artist.

However, many of these posts come with another tag: #ootd

Kusama explains her fascination with the polka dot and its prominence in her artwork, saying, “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.”

But in most of these photos, the user takes center stage, while the infinity becomes a backdrop to take the instaworthy shot that garners hundreds, if not thousands of likes. In today’s society, social media has become a way of life. We take photos and post them online everyday, be it good food we want to share with the world, a memory, or in this case, an experience. It’s not that Kusama doesn’t approve of people sharing and spreading her art through social media, quite the opposite. She feels “It is important that my art is shared with so many people in many different forms, and I am grateful for that.”

It is when the art becomes a prop that it becomes a problem.

An article TheSmartLocal published on 18th July, “10 Artsy Photographs You Can Take At The Yayoi Kusama Exhibit At National Gallery Singapore” explains how one can take 10 unique shots that will transform “basic to instaworthy”. For example, inside “Invisible Life”, a labyrinth filled with reflective acrylic convex discs, they advised to use a lower angle for a photograph, “for the light to bounce off (his) face, lighting up the rest of (his) reflections.” There’s no doubt that this “instaworthy tutorial” angle was aimed to target more visitors to learn about the exhibition, and of course they did try their best to explain the various artworks. But the article’s main topic becomes an explanation of how to use the works as suitable backdrops for the best phototaking experience, rather than how to enjoy the exhibition for what it is. It is also disturbing to note that this post was produced in collaboration with the National Gallery Singapore.

When a visitor steps into a museum, the aim should be to immerse themselves in the artist’s works, to gain an insight to the mind of the artist. We go there for an experience. But the onslaught of #yayoikusama posts, while working as effective publicity, cast these works as secondary, turning the exhibition to be something of a photobooth.

Of course, the fact that entry is restricted and that the place is over-saturated with visitors also play a role. For the “Infinity Mirrored Room: Gleaming Lights of the Souls” exibit, for example, visitors are only allowed, 3 at a time, 30 seconds to go in and experience the room filled with infinite lights. It becomes difficult to sit back and enjoy the experience when you have to leave almost immediately. To try to make that moment last, it seems second nature to take a photo of that fleeting experience.

Just try to remember what we went there for.

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