Don't Box Me In
But it’s not all bad––Instagram has also cut out the middleman and offered creators of all kinds a platform––albeit, one that’s addictive and structured around its own mysterious algorithm. And director/designer Jenna Josepher is addressing that complicated dynamic of creating for Instagram head-on.
In her looping video installation at 312 Canal St., “Don’t Box Me In But Check Out My Grid,” Josepher invites us to examine what the app is doing to our ability to retain visual information, and confronts the limitations inherent to creating work for Instagram. The video, featuring characters that range from slightly off to total aliens, plays on the process of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, consuming what she calls “disposable eye candy." Each looping clip shown in the work exists on Josepher’s actual Instagram page as well –– but as a shorter version, so you actually have to leave your house for the full experience.
And while the exhibit replicates sitting on Instagram on your phone, the works are more memorable IRL on Canal –– simply because they’re offered the context of a real sensory experience. Standing in the empty storefront gallery space with the Chinatown traffic behind you, you’ll actually absorb the visual of Josepher’s three-eyed iteration of @scientwehst. Something definitely worth committing to memory.
What is “Don’t Box Me In But Check Out My Grid” about?
The entire piece is both an embrace and a commentary on social media, and as a whole reflects this love/hate relationship I’m having with Instagram as an image-maker. Everybody wants to stand out in the art or image-making world, we’re all trying to stand out in some way. And yet we’re all slaves to the same metrics and grid system, and we’re all working within the same format. And the way we draw people to our work through social is pretty similar across the board.
That’s what the piece also addresses in a way; I wanted to show multiple instances of my work but I didn’t want to just loop them together one after another without any context, and I felt Instagram was both a reasonable and meta way of tying everything together.
The piece reminds me of this idea of directing people to “tap the link in bio” to see the whole thing –– you’re doing that but bringing the Instagram posts into a real-life context.
I’ve been playing with the idea in my work too of making something specifically for Instagram and designing it to work within the metrics that we all work within. But that’s not the most fulfilling as an artist when you can’t control all the aspects and you can’t play with the aspects of a project. And a lot more work goes into these things than what we can show.
Was looping the videos a commentary on the “box” that’s inherent to creating something digestible for Instagram?
Looping the videos mimics scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through Instagram –– your movements are looping while you’re watching something looping, it’s something repetitive that feels very monotonous. The whole project is super duper meta. I really like when you can’t tell where something begins or ends, and I’m interested in tricking the eye.
Piecing the clips together with the Instagram element, I was losing track of what I’d already seen –– the same as when I’m on Instagram on my phone.
Exactly, and I think what’s so interesting about Instagram in particular is it brings this ephemeral idea to visuals. It’s just disposable eye candy. You see it for two seconds and unless you save it or screenshot it, it’s pretty much lost within the algorithm forever, unless you go back and find it deliberately. So I’m trying to play on that idea of once you see it, it’s gone, or forgetting what you’ve already seen. A lot of my work plays with attention span in an under-the-table way. Making sure that something interesting happens within a few seconds so that it maintains your attention.
How would you compare seeing the videos on Instagram to seeing them in a physical space?
I think seeing the videos on Instagram is a little more expected, that’s the context where you always have this content –– it’s in your hand and there’s only so much you can do. The content of a video can be anything, but the fact that it’s 2-D and it’s in your hand and it’s that small, that’s the constraint that every visual artist on Instagram works within. But putting the Instagram interface enlarged and in a public space is a little less expected. I wanted people to catch it as they walk by, and see Instagram in an unexpected place.