Why are selfies so popular?
“How can one feel important or individualistic when there are seven billion people in the planet and you live in a city where you feel like you’re being herded like cattle onto a train?” Carla Gannis said in an interview. “It makes us want to leave our mark on the world, it makes us want to assert our identity. I don’t think that’s necessarily the impulse of a girl at a club who’s trying to have fun, but I think it’s an underlying impulse.”
Gannis, who’s a professor in the Digital Arts department at Pratt, has a new show open at TRANSFER Gallery, in East Williamsburg, called A Subject Self-Defined. It’s a multimedia show, with works which run from self-portraits drawn on an iPad to video loops to augmented reality.
The one unifying theme is Gannis, it’s a show about her.
Gannis grew up in the rural town of Oxford, North Carolina, population: 8,000, where the tallest building is the white water tower on Sycamore Street that says, “City of Oxford.” Growing up, she said, her father was big into computers, and her mom liked to perform. Her grandparents came from Appalachia. She has two degrees in fine art and spent most of her early years in oil painting.
“All these things create our identity,” she said. “I feel like I come from a Southern Gothic culture and now I feel like I’m a part of online gothic culture.”
Exploring identity is the basic idea of A Subject Self-Defined. Gannis said that she’d been working on a different piece some time ago and had a traumatic experience that made her stop and rethink a lot of what she’d been doing.
“When I first started this project I was like, ‘Are people going to take me seriously doing selfies?’ I think they’re often maligned and [there are] assumptions that culture at large has formed into a pool of narcissists,” Gannis said. “I’m exploring also the collisions of traditional self portraiture in fine art and selfie culture, that belongs more to social media. A lot of the works are remixes to other works in art history. I inserted myself into several other master’s portraits, all of them male.”
One example of that is Nude Descending a Staircase, a take-off of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). It’s a looped video of Gannis’s distorted, metallic, nude body descending a staircase from a structure that recalls a space ship, and walking down into a purple and black, lightning and water-filled wasteworld where the oceans have risen and the ozone layer has been depleted and all that remains are our transhuman brain-drives atop body-like structures. Or something like that, you’ll have to check out the show and let me know what you think.
One of the things we talked about was the selfie as a feminist instrument.
“Women, particularly, have a history of objectification,” Gannis said. “Men have had the control of their image. The selfie is a place where women can control their own image. The selfie takes control back and allows the individual to create the narrative that you’re representing to your friends.”
A Subject Self-Defined is up at TRANSFER Gallery every Saturday from 12-6 p.m. until March 12.