#SelfieShow @ Yell Gallery

[Selfies meet with a lot of criticism for their inherently narcissistic bent. Lauren reviews a show that embraces that narcissism, and unearths the creativity that can sometimes lie beneath a selfie’s shallow appearance. — the Artblog editors]

The “selfie” goes back a lot further than we think (what do you think the Lascaux cave paintings were about, anyway?). In recent years, there has been a boom in the selfie–aided by smartphone cameras and Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. It is easier than ever to record what we are doing, where we’re doing it, and who we’re doing it with. The selfie provides in-depth documentation of our daily lives, inviting others to look in, and turning everyone into a voyeur (whether they know it or not).

Yell Gallery, however, has a unique opinion on the selfie–pinning it as “ephemeral” and “self-perceptive”. The gallery began its #SelfieShow project with an open call soliciting Philadelphians to share their best selfies. What came from this open call was an invitation to be shamelessly narcissistic, and the artists included in this venture are just that. The show includes works by 21 artists and showcases a variety of different interpretations on the subject–from embroidered faces to video diaries. Similar to the selfie itself, the exhibition is completely subjective to each artist.


Quilt and collage

Ashley Ferrell, “Untitled,” quilted textile.

“Untitled” by Ashley Ferrell is a quilted (yes, quilted) image of the artist. Her facial expression is not easily deciphered; her decision to integrate white squares into the image is reminiscent of old, pixelated cell-phone photos prior to the iPhone era. Edges and colors and eyebrows do not exactly match up, making the viewer question if this is just one image we are looking at, or a composite. Our only indicator is on the bottom right-hand corner of her quilt, where she has included a clear miniature of the image, like the key to a map. Ferrell’s enlarged image is like watching a picture download off AOL dial-up in the early 2000s–eagerly awaiting the entire picture and getting off on the tiny, beautiful pixels we are allotted in between.

Photo collage
Ben Panter, “Christina,” photo collage.

Ben Panter includes a piece that is quintessentially his, presenting a photo collage entitled “Christina” to the selfie arena. “Christina” is not so much a beautiful image as it is a captivating one–the images composited together to make this piece have been done in a way that is mildly disorienting and even a little disturbing.

An image of a woman (we’re going to guess it’s Christina) with her mouth closed is layered over one with the same woman smiling. They are two lovely images on their own (I’m sure); however, when put together, the mouths look like they are bleeding, but the look in the eye is that of a smile. A raised brow hides in the layers. The greenery in the background gives the feeling of wilderness–is Christina a cannibal having lunch in the woods? Only Ben Panter knows.


Selfies worth seeing

Katrina Rakowski, “Show Me Your I.D.,” oil on canvas.

Staring out from a Mediterranean-blue wall is Katrina Rakowski’s guilty-looking mugshot. “Show Me Your I.D.” resorts to traditional practices of oil painting–it is a surprisingly classic, yet refreshing image from the rest of the show. Rakowski’s piece is darkly comedic; the piece states clearly that the police mugshot is the ultimate selfie (if Sinatra and Khloe Kardashian could do it, so can we). Cynicism aside, the painting itself is really quite stunning–the choices made in color palette and composition, and the choice of environment in which the accused is portrayed, make the viewer think back to the paintings of the Impressionist era.

Other standouts in the exhibition are Justine Kelley’s juicy, bold pineapple screen prints; Arielle Massa’s hypnotic animated GIF; and Thomas Kelly’s “Goya Selfie”a photograph that is startlingly and undeniably similar to Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”. Yell has created a show that playfully and shamelessly fits into our selfie-obsessed society, even going as far as to inspire its viewers to send their own selfies to be posted in the gallery. Go check out the show, and before you go, be sure to take a selfie.
#SelfieShow is on display at Yell Gallery, 2111 East Susquehanna Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123, from Sept. 5 – Oct. 5th, 2014.