I derive a certain pleasure from viewing lists of photographs such as this, where people pose with statues in creative ways. This photo – from the link – is my favourite, because the caption reads “All the single statues”, indicating that the people in the photo have posed in such a way that they bring out the resemblance between the statue’s posture and Beyoncé’s iconic choreography for her music video “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)“. And I think Beyoncé is Queen of the World.
The phenomenon of posing with statues makes me think that interactivity is not just a technological feature but a mode of engagement and a cultural logic. When art loses its culture of reverence it can be engaged with in new ways that may or may not lead to new cultural forms. Most of these photos are from reddit/imgur, so while I can’t say that no one ever interacted with a statue in this way before the emergence of this aspect of digital culture, I think that the logic of performing, photographing and sharing has shaped how we interact with art. The impression of movement the statues convey also reach out and prompt playful engagement – paradoxically the movement of the statues elicits the freezing of the humans. I’m sure someone more well versed with the subject of art will be able to contribute more.
When I was in Hong Kong I viewed the wax statues at the Madam Tussaud’s there – posed with them for photographs also along with a whole lot of other people.
Everyone’s photos must have looked really interesting, because we all know how to pose now and look as though we are having a wonderful time for the split second needed to take the photo. But there, in the display area, it felt as though everyone was just mechanically moving from figure to figure. Move, pose, snap. Move, pose, snap. Lather, rinse, repeat. The wonder of the waxworks was not felt. Expressions of “oh how lifelike it all is” were missing. I felt the loss because when I was a child I had experienced the wax figures with my family. We had all remarked on how lifelike they were. But now perhaps everyone is used to simulations of much more variety and much higher quality. And now perhaps the point is not to look at the statue, but to draw it into a photo. Which can then be posted online. Perhaps the point is to erase the artist, to eradicate the wonder that her work is meant to evoke, and by becoming part of the art, by manufacturing a photo opportunity that the Internet will appreciate, to be seen as an artist of sorts. Consuming is not enough anymore. We must BE consumed.
I don’t think my point is that we are all going to a digital hell in a mechanical hand basket. This sort of activity has a memetic quality, after all, and I am of the opinion that memes have political potential. I am also of the opinion that exploring the political potential of memes is valuable – even if no immediate structural change takes place, more people being able to express themselves is a cultural phenomenon that can support the efforts of focused political action in numerous ways. I just think that acknowledging that interactivity is a mode of engagement and a (new?) cultural logic in our engagements with public spaces might help us to think about how we can unlock the political and pedagogical potential of these engagements (I’m thinking, for example, of Banksy‘s work).
PS: I wrote this post just so I could be on the same page as Beyoncé.