Notes on The Instagram Project
V. The Disregard of Time
VI. The Disregard of Accuracy
The book is called Chinese Characteristics, written by an American missionary in the late 19th century. I have never thought the Chinese, a complex population living on a vast land could be so neatly summarised into twenty some characteristics. Somewhat intrigued to see what the author has to say in his succinct and definite profiling, I borrowed the book, and walked into the chilly dark streets of London. Prior to discovering of this book, I have been fascinated by the photos and video clips about the Chinese on Instagram. So much so that I decided to make work about them, which is what has become The Instagram Project.
Here is an example.
The same inappropriate behaviour seems hasn’t changed for more than 100 years. But why is this behaviour deemed inappropriate in the first place?
What constitutes a good sleeping environment and sleeping manners is a matter of belief shaped by societal and personal circumstances instead of a matter of universal fact. In the case of the Chinese sleeping described, the behaviour is shaped by many thinkings different from the West including a very different understanding of what’s good for the body, the idea of efficiency in relation to a specific kind of working condition, a different take on the idea of the public and the private, and so on.
Coming back to The Instagram Project, it is a series of experiments about how do we make sense of what we see.
The Smell of Earth and Tree
Maritime trade stretched across the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. Trade was not only an economic activity but a complex web of cultural and social exchanges that strongly affected lifestyles in the region. The Smell of Earth and Tree is taken from the diary of an old sailor who recounts stories of his voyages. Like him, others remember their journeys from Iran to the West Indian Coast when tailwinds drove their dhows and stars guided them.
While seamen talk openly about these often-perilous expeditions, fellow travelers, and free ports and bazaars, they do not talk much about their private lives and family histories. The travels and long layovers in harbors led to marriages between diverse nationalities, in this case, between Indian and Iranian individuals looking to establish homes. However, with maritime trade fading away, many families were broken or separated.
To keep these experiences alive, Yaghmaian explores small towns in the Persian Gulf, seeking to maintain a connection with the past. She gathers photographs, maps, and other treasured possessions to reimagine these stories, many of which remain untold. Through the meditative practice of listening, the artist picks pieces of the sailor’s recollections and carves out contemporary renditions of their familial, cherished truths.
BiographyNegar Yaghmaian is a photographer living and working in Iran. She graduated with a BA in photography from Tehran Art University and completed a course in Documentary and Photojournalism at IED, Madrid. Yaghmaian is interested in personal stories and their interconnections to wider social issues. Through a contemporary lens, her photography gives access to memories embedded in the past. She was artist-in-residence at CACP Villa Perochon in France and her works have been exhibited and published both at home and internationally, including Voices Off Festival, Arte Creative Program, and Le Monde.
In direct response to this, Selley has created a series of collages, using images of two early to mid-twentieth- century American geographers—Isaiah Bowman and Eugene Vernon Harris—housed at the University of Milwaukee Photography Archive. These photographs were used to chart, map, and document Latin America on behalf of the American Geographical Society and the US Foreign Service. In Human Exploitation, Selley edits these images and places them within extracts of the manual. In this way, the artist creates nuances that record the implementation of power and, by altering their surfaces and deconstructing the linear narrative history, he imbues them with new meaning. This creates a feeling of suspicion and mystery where people are removed from the pictures, and attention is drawn to banal objects that become menacing. When these collages are sequenced, they generate a dark, poem- like narrative that reminds us that things aren’t always as they seem, while attempting to convey both the reality and threat of the militarization of the young soldiers.
The US military has been known to use many songs in this way – from aggressive heavy metal bands such as Metallica to children’s popular TV show theme tunes such as Sesame Street and Barney the Dinosaur. I have taken a selection of these songs, corrupted the files in an editing software – a process which to some extent is out of my control and is relatively random – after which I have channelled them through an analogue synthesiser and re-composed the sound into its current form. The idea of twisting, corrupting and re-composing these files can be associated with a damaged and twisted memory that we need to re-assemble, working with what remains. The sound becomes swamped, the violence hidden within the status of the songs selected, each corrupted sound wave merges and competes with the other – a sinister representation of the sound of state violence and torture.
BiographyGeorge Selley is a London-based photographer, filmmaker, and researcher. He is a recent graduate of an MA in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication. Selley currently teaches photography at Fine Arts College in Camden and his work has been published in Dazed, PHMuseum, Wallpaper, Huck, The British Journal of Photography, Artpress, and Fisheye Magazine, among other notable publications. In 2017, Selley was one of the first photographers to receive the Paris Photo Carte Blanche Student Award. His work has been exhibited globally in places like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Portugal, Israel, Hungary, the Netherlands, the US, and the UK. In 2015, his documentary Study Drugs was selected and screened at the American Public Health Association Film Festival in Chicago. The artist is co-founder of the Carte Blanche Collective.
The Instagram Project
Quirky Science Questions is a set of unexpected science problems created from images and video clips from Instagram. The reading of the pictures shifts as they are given a new function, liberating them from the original narrow-minded context. The questions are produced in collaboration with Theodora Ntoka, an education researcher. On the other hand, Provocative Jokes Deconstructed focuses on nine of the numerous Instagram “jokes” that are made at the expense of the objectification of real people. The photographs are deconstructed and further broken down into three parts: people, words, and captions. The flicking through jokes, readily to be laughed at, are turned into separate entities demanding viewer attention and thinking. They are called upon to make up their own minds about what is at stake within this world of secret pleasures.
BiographyYuxin Jiang lives and works in London and Shanghai and holds an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster. She is an artist striving to challenge the thinking around intersectional identity issues by analyzing cultural forms, such as language, image culture, and her own experience of becoming a global citizen. Her artistic practice has recently begun to shift towards one that is collaborative and functional, with an increased interest in situating her work beyond the artistic context. Recent projects include Part of Syllabus (2019/2020), a UK-wide artist development program, Chinese edition translator of Photography: The Key Concepts; exhibition- based work Five Events, and Some Observations on Identity, which also won the Lianzhou Foto Festival Jury Prize of 2018 and was a finalist for the Jimei x Arles Discovery Award of 2017.
Motherland. Far Beyond the Polar Circle
In this body of work, Avetisjans oscillates between the past and the present and his documentary-style photography is dominated by this sharp dual vision that exposes secrets guarded in the past. He shows how today the community of Igarka has its own hopes and dreams for the future: the revival of railway and agriculture, to become the oil capital of Siberia, and the expansion of its airport. Yet these contemporary images stand in contrast to governmental records and archival material. By tracing the painful account of his own family, Avetisjans shares snapshots of the seemingly infinite landscapes of Northern Siberia and its inhabitants. While now often romanticized, this vast expanse holds many recollections that the artist excavates and, in so doing, he brings these narratives to the surface.