The Art of the Selfie: From Bathroom Mirrors to Olympic-Worthy Architecture

What started with a high school cheerleader making a duck face in front of a bathroom mirror and shamelessly posting in on Facebook, evolved into a leitmotif of numerous art and architectural projects, competitions, festivals and studies.

Lidija Grozdanic Lidija Grozdanic

You might have heard about the recent ban on selfie sticks by several American museums, with those in Europe considering doing the same. By banning “narcissticks,” institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, have violated the basic human right to cram our tourist-tanned torsos into the same frame with high art and document every second of our cultural refinement. It seems that we have become accustomed to interactive art but these institutions have decided that having us collectively wield camera extensions around, say, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon might be a step too far.

Nevertheless, selfie culture is as strong as ever. What started with a high school cheerleader making a duck face in front of a bathroom mirror and shamelessly posting it on Facebook has evolved into a leitmotif of numerous art and architectural projects, competitions, festivals, and studies. Regardless of one’s personal attitude toward the selfie, it has become part of our vocabulary and it looks like it’s here to stay.

Images via Selfiecity

Considered the “ultimate data-driven exploration of the Selfie,” Lev Manovich’s project “Selfiecity” presented the findings on the demographics of people taking selfies, their poses, and their expressions. The team analyzed data from five cities — Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York, and Sao Paulo — showing that women take significantly more selfies than men (from 1.3 times as many in Bangkok to 1.9 times more in Berlin). Bangkok’s selfie-holics are more inclined to smile, while those in Moscow smile the least. The average amount of head tilt in women is 50% higher than for men: (12.3° vs. 8.2°). São Paulo is most extreme: There, the average head tilt for females is 16.9°.

Ghost in the Machine by Ted Lawson

From head-tilting to bloodletting — artist Ted Lawson created his selfie using his vital fluids as paint. Ghost in the Machine comprises a series of large-scale drawings rendered in the artist’s own blood fed intravenously to a CNC machine. The project marries pop culture with digital fabrication techniques in a way that can’t get any more personal.

Au Pantheon by JR

Among the projects which introduced selfies to architectural spaces is the art installation called Au Pantheon. Artist JR created this piece as part of his Out Project which included a photo booth traveling across France, in which more than 2,500 people took self-portraits, with others uploading their selfies to the project’s website. The final mosaic, made up of 4,000 faces, was then used to cover the ceiling of the Neoclassical mausoleum Le Pantheon in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Several other projects have taken the concept further and into strange directions. The world’s biggest museum of 3D paintings in Asia encourages its visitors to take photos of themselves. They are invited to play with the exhibits and become part of the artwork.

Art in Island

Selfies are being increasingly used in urban design and community engagement campaigns. Several initiatives are calling on people to, for example, take pictures of themselves in places in their cities — corners, cafes, parks, etc. — which make them happy. The “Mobile Selfie Booth” was part of a project that aims to engage the public in a larger debate on urban planning and design focused on Market Street in San Francisco.

Megafaces pavilion by Asif Khan

Which brings us to the world’s first selfie-building, the “Megafaces” pavilion, designed by architect Asif Khan. The installation was unveiled during the Sochi winter games and featured a giant screen that displayed faces of visitors in 3D. More than 10,000 actuators simulated the shapes of 3D scanned faces of visitors who used photo booths placed in different stores across Russia. People were photographed from five different angles and the photographs were then processed to create 3D models. To complete the cycle of image-based communication, visitors were enabled to capture their appearances online and download short videos of their appearances, most of which presumably ended up on their Facebook timelines and Instagram feeds, where it all started.

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© Alexandre Wasilewski

Ile de Nantes – Oiseau des Iles // CANVA5, Antonini Darmon Archi tects

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