#Selfie – People Who Take Pictures of Themselves

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art
Nov 3, 2017 8:18AM

Jaehyun Kang, the chief curator, Savina Museum of Contemporary Art


‘Selfie’ is used to describe the behavior of taking pictures of one’s face using a smartphone and posting them on social networks. Selfie means basically same as 'selca', pictures taken by themselves, not taken by others. It basically means same as ‘selca(self camera)’. Selfie is another way to exhibit oneself and communicate with others through a smartphone, which became an essential item to people living in the Me-Media world in the 21st century. ‘Selfie’ is a global phenomenon and it was even selected for the Word of the Year in 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries. The Savina Museum of Contemporary Art organized ‘SNS ART – Art, the Change of Communication’ in March 2012 to examine the impact of SNS (Social Network Services) such as Facebook and Twitter, which has two-way communication. This ‘#Selfie – People Who Take Pictures of Themselves' reflects on the mentality of modern people who are frequently taking selfie as a proof. There have been radical changes. Anybody can show off themselves easily and freely. Also it allows real-time exchange of information online. However, on the other hand, we can find the isolated people stuck in the online world.

One of the most significant characteristics of selfie is having the ability to set up the situation and scenery as one wishes to show. Many kinds of applications, which are similar to Photoshop, are available for everyone to use. It reverses the meaning of record, truth, and representation that original pictures have. People in modern society create images of themselves in the world of virtual reality, which might isolate themselves from inside of their mind. This exhibition was born in order to rediscover the portrait of modern people. Through the exhibition, we will be able to see how Me-Media trend changed our lives and how individual desire has been expressed. This exhibition is created by nine different teams of artists and placed throughout three floors of the museum. The first floor of the exhibition was designed for audiences to capture their images in the most satisfying way and enjoy them. The second floor was organized for audiences to reflect on messages and meanings of portraits of artists and, moreover, compare with their own selfies. The lower level gallery has works that encourage viewers to think of themselves as a member of society and their individuality.


The first work audiences would meet is Shinamjeongi’s ‘Mind Wave’. The rigid atmosphere of a museum is be broken by funky music and flickering lights. It is made to create an atmosphere as if we are at a nightclub. Shinamjeongi shows characteristics of selfie that makes fun of themselves like yupgi photos (freaky photos), which is trendy on the internet. The flow of this interactive artwork is as following, first, movements of audiences in front of a camera would be recorded as simple three seconds segments. According to music, audiences would push six buttons randomly and it will distort the image of their funny movement. They can add lightings and ‘Like’ button and heart images on their images like a VJ (video jockey). The movements of audiences, big and small, are edited and distorted with light, music, and images. The results from this process would bring unexpected joy.

Garam Kim’s ‘#SELSTAR’ reflects on reality that an artwork is used as a background of a selfie as a proof, not for appreciation. '#SELSTAR' is created to be a background from the very beginning and built three-dimensional letters. This work invites audiences to use a built-in camera, which is specifically designed for selfie, makeup tools, pink-colored lightings, and mirrors to take selfies and upload them on social networks. ‘Selstar’ means a person who became a star by posting their selca (selfie). They usually tag ‘selstargram’ hashtag and this tag works as a search word. These images are shared by people online. This work encourages people to take selfies against the work as a background and make them as a main subject of this work. For this exhibition, Kim initiated '#SELSTAR X YOU' project. The artist shoot videos of volunteered participants against the work and uploaded these interview videos on Instagram and projected this Instagram page onto the exhibition wall. The work can be finally completed when audiences’ experiences are shared on Instagram. The main person of the video will be changed any minute as the interview moves on to the next person. This reflects on the situation that anybody can be a star by drawing interests and attentions on social networks overnight and disappear quickly. In a similar context, Chang Kyum Kim’s ‘Dance’ puts audiences in the center of attention on a monitor. When somebody stands in front of a monitor, a built-in camera captures a person and inserts images of dancers, flowers, and butterflies. The final image will be shown with music. In this way, they become a main person of virtual reality space. Thus, the first floor of the museum is a space for audiences to take selfies and become a main person on the stage.


Many artists painted self-portraits as a way to study themselves. Well known artists such as Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Andy Warhol didn't limit this genre to be only about their appearances but attempted to include their unique tendencies, inner state, agonies about works, and expression techniques through self-portraits. It would be only possible when they went through steps like contemplation and research. This exhibition aims to show the modern people's desires towards selfie and thoughts on artists’ identities and images of our time through selfie taken by participating artists including Insook Kim and Benjamin Rabe (KIMxRABE), Koh Sang Woo, Amalia Ulman. While I was discussing the selfie phenomenon with Insook Kim, we planned two ways to exhibit her works. One is showing pictures and video installations from 'Letter to You', a documentary series about Kim herself who is a Korean-Japanese. She documented a year since she has started living in Korea at the age of twenty while trying to find her true identity from the experience. Another is a research project which was made possible in collaboration with a Tokyo based social scientist, Benjamin Rabe, who is deeply interested in the Asian culture. They researched and analyzed the selfie phenomenon in Korea and Japan. For a relatively short period time, Rabe went back and forth between Korea and Japan and conducted surveys and interviews. Based on his findings, Rabe exhibits a report containing data and writings about selfie under a project entitled ‘Visual Face’. Insook Kim exhibits interview videos and selfie photos of Korean and Korean-Japanese participants which she collected for a year. This work enables us to see the differences between artist's self-portrait and regular people's and compare the different ways to present identities among Korean and Japanese participants. 'Visual Face’ project will be expanded to other countries in Europe, Asia, and the United States after this exhibition. We are hoping to be able to see the distinctive characteristics of people in each country and cultural differences.

Koh Sang Woo presents two photography works, ‘Introvert’ and ‘Better Man’ Flowers in his works stand our with vibrant colors as if they were bloomed in the dark, creating calm feeling. Two self-portraits are resulted from reverse technique. The images were originally taken from body painting performances. Koh, who spent early years in the Unites States, experienced discriminations and used stories of wounds and pain in his works. We can feel quiet resistance from tightly closed eyes and lip and words on the skin. These pictures were taken with reverse technique, however, the exhibited pictures are negative image of the reversed color which seems to be the positive image of artist’s portrait picture. The positive image clearly reveals roughly painted letters and brush strokes on the skin. It makes us feel as if we are looking closely at his wounds which is uncomfortable. This discomfort makes us to experience and discover the gap between reality and illusion. When the image of a real person is reversed, it looks like a ghost. Through this effect, Koh’s works lead us to contemplate on the visible and invisible world and question the meaning of being.

LA based artist, Amalia Ulman shares photos of her performance, which staged herself as a fictional person on Instagram. Ulman has over 130,000 follwers all over the world. Through this performance, she shows how easy and simple it is to make a fake identity. In this exhibition, two signature pieces from ‘Privilege’ series and interview clip will be shown. Her selfie performance examines the mentality of people living in this era who yearn for other people’s well-curated lives on social networks and warns about the truth and false of information distributed on the internet which we receive every day. Also, it is a case study about how art forms can be expanded through me-media.


The subtitle, ‘People Who Take Pictures of Themselves’ has double meanings. They indicate ‘I take pictures of myself’ as well as ‘pictures of me taken by others’. Our daily life is exposed and recorded easily by surveillance cameras, smartphone GPS, credit card records, and postings on social networks. The devices, which were invented to keep our lives safe and comfortable, are actually make it tough because of the influences from social standards and rules. The lower level exhibition space presents Eunkoo Kang, Upsetpress Ahn Jimmy x Boorok Lee, and Kyungwoo Han who focus on discovering ourselves as a member of this society. Eunkoo Kang’s ‘Walls and Doors’ is an installation work using roller-shutters, which are typically installed at the storefront for safety. Kang used the convertible aspect of roller shutters, which are used as walls during the night and doors in the morning. Two shutters are installed in a room with surveillance cameras and connected monitors capturing the movement of people in the room. The shutter automatically opens up an closes down. As it moves, it becomes a wall and then door that locks up or lets out people in the room. This shutter is a metaphor about the online world. It can be a door that enables communication regardless of time and space as well as a wall that isolates people. It also questions about the error of gaze which can be found as a camera is fixed in a certain position and it makes the visual coverage limited.

Upsetpress Jimi Ahn x Boorok Lee presents Warvata (war+avatar) sticker project. Warvata is a portmanteau of ‘war’ and ‘avatar’. Warvata sticker project has started in 2007 and it has been recording the portrait of people living in modern society facing wars against terrorism. Brutal violence happens in our tough life not only in war zones. The artist designed stickers with avatars containing violent war zone images and encouraged audiences to paste stickers wherever they want and take pictures as a proof in their daily life setting, which is their own war zone. Warvata stickers, brought to participants' daily life, were placed on their body parts. Pictures of stickers on different bodies are sent to the artist. These images are to be published in a book at the end. It is kind of a play. Through this process audiences can record the tough life of people living in the current time and witness the violent situations around them. Through this project, Upsetpress Jimi Ahn x Broorok Lee translates war into various narratives and leads us to look at all-too-familiar reality with a new perspective.

Han Kyung Woo installed small old televisions on the top of four tables placed throughout three floors of the exhibition space. If we look closely, we can see the image is divided into four sections. Audiences would take a seat by a table without thinking that they would find themselves on the monitor. They will also find other people on the monitor sitting on a chair on the different floor. Without knowing each other, they would look at the monitor, and ignore each other or try to communicate by joyfully waving hands. After walking away from the chair, they might run into others in the museum. They might feel easier to connect with strangers online than offline as it guarantees anonymity and temporality. Especially, online communication would be preferable way to connect with others these days, when there are so many accidents and crimes everywhere. Han Kyung Woo reminds us to reflect on the meaning of ‘making relationships’ through his work, ‘Close Rendezvous’.


This exhibition encourages to participate as a part of the process of understanding works. Participating artists suggested many different ways to look at their works and themselves. Through this exhibition, audiences can look into the beauty of exterior as well as the inner world, moreover, experience the discovery of themselves with a new perspective. The 2nd floor provides a space to view survey results and unique selfie-related references. The museum attempted to turn it into a fun place in order to attract audiences' participation through this exhibition. We focused on the changes in the exhibition setting as well as the mentality of people behind the Me-media and selfie phenomenon. The reaction and participation of audiences over the course of one month period of the exhibition was beyond our expectation. Audiences have visited the museum with open mind towards artworks and artists which made me regret that our exhibition strategy was little passive in the past. This exhibition was organized to look into issues in the current time and understand them through the contemporary art in various ways. This exhibition is planned to break free from the restriction of taking pictures in the museum and having limits to stay in photo zones, for our audiences.

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art