How many art museums or galleries are there today, that don’t have an active Facebook or Twitter page? What about the number of institutions that continue to have inflexible rules when it comes to photography in their spaces? How many of us, especially as millennials, didn’t take a #MuseumSelfie to post on Instagram yet? Even if we don’t know the exact numbers, we can easily guess the answers to these questions. Social media is becoming or already became an indispensable element in the world of art; affecting both how the institutions represent themselves and reach people, and how we experience and perceive art and these institutions, which brings many more interesting questions to our table.
In my interview with Mine Kaplangı, an art curator, artist representative and editor based in Istanbul, I wanted to tackle this growing, intriguing relationship and the questions it raises further. Mine, who is currently working on curating the yearly program of BLOK art space, a well-known contemporary art space in Istanbul, gave many thought-provoking answers to my questions. I hope you’ll enjoy!
Q: As you know, the increasing presence and activity of art institutions on social media platforms is discussed greatly in art scenes all over the world these days. What are your personal opinions on this ongoing orientation and its effects and outcomes for the institutions?
A: As art institutions increase their social media presence it becomes very important to make the distinction between using these platforms for promotion and education. The increasing number of followers of art museums or galleries on social media show that people are interested in getting the latest developments in the art world this way, so using these platforms not only for promotion but also for education, giving information and making announcements becomes a crucial point. With these platforms, we – as a community linked by art – have new and bigger responsibilities for our followers, artists and visitors. Now museums and galleries have more opportunities to express themselves not only in local and physical spaces, but also in digital and global ones. By using these platforms being in connection with the global art market becomes much easier, which makes using them efficiently even more important.
Q: What about its impact on their audience and visitors? Do you think especially millennials being the ‘digital natives’, have started to perceive art institutions as more approachable, interesting or entertaining as a result of the social media effect?
A: With the increasing presence of art on social media, in a sense ‘popular’ shapes it’s way also in the art world. Social media platforms create the new trends; people turn to them for the answers of questions like “What is in? What is popular?”. Maybe someone with a thousand followers really liked a sculpture because of its colour, posted it online, suddenly there is a “popular” artwork on social media. Many people start following the artist, the gallery and so on.
Of course sharing and compressing all experiences into one timeline creates a personal pleasure for young generation. Entertainment is surely part of these platforms but this is how this new generation live now, in an age where the discussion “entertainment versus education” has ended and now entertainment is the first rule for the education, especially when it comes to art. So before they experience the actual exhibition, they check online, learn more about the trends, follow the artists they like, share the works they feel closer and share their selfies from their experiences. Also since the 90s there are many examples of digital artworks focused on social media platforms, criticising or exploring either way we are trying to learn more about the new ethical rules of these big questions through art as well. These platforms and what kind of standards they bring to our perception of art will be discussed by all of us for years I believe, until we have other platforms.
Q: In BLOK art space, what is your standpoint to this relationship as an art gallery? You have active Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, how do you use them strategically to reach your audience?
A: I think in this new era we are living in; this is not a choice but a need. We have no choice but to use social media platforms to reach a wider crowd. This is also a part of a business plan, since we are all connected as a large art system each one of us should offer certain information, images etcetera to get people’s attention.
This is our 3rd year in the social media field. Facebook is more of an event page for us, we almost use our profile page like if it’s our website. We use Twitter to follow local and global art news and also as a news board for our followers. We use Instagram as a timeline, almost like a visual archive. With our Instagram posts, we try to be very careful with posting all information both in Turkish and English as half of our followers are from foreign countries. One of our artists’ got an invitation to a seminar in London because of our Instagram post about her installation last year. We believe that creating these kinds of new links and connections are very valuable for the art world.
Q: What are your opinions on the current trend of taking photographs and/or selfies in art exhibitions and sharing them on social media, especially by millennials? Do you support it and think that it should be allowed, for marketing purposes for instance? Or do you think that it distracts the visitors from the actual artworks thus it should be discouraged?
A: This is a very on point argument at the moment for the contemporary art world and I believe this phenomenon has both its effective and contradictory sides. On one side these tools are almost becoming a form art by themselves. For instance, take the colour pallet you can choose from for your Instagram photo of an artwork. Not only people put their own aesthetic perspectives into this action but also Instagram filters become their personal choices for the last look! In addition, we can share everything easily and quickly, thus we also become like a newsletter for the art world. You follow your friend, your friend shares an artwork, you get curious, click on the artwork, and bam! You are already in that gallery’s or museum’s page. That’s indeed a very effective way of spreading the word.
On the other hand, personally I find it very difficult not to get disturbed by the fact that we are starting to feel like we need to record everything to remember. But I believe this is more related with our generation’s zeitgeist not exclusively with the art world. Every day we create another profile on social media platforms, we use different apps to create diverse types of realities. So, in this fast-track movement how we are going to find our ways? Do we have a moment to just breathe and be present, or should we just evolve with these new opportunities and discover the world of art through digital platforms?
Q: At BLOK art space, did your rules for photography change as a result of this trend?
A: Our rules didn’t change in a significant way, as we have always allowed our visitors to take photographs in our exhibitions. We only ask them not to use flash when taking photographs as it may damage some artworks or objects. If there is a certain event, performance or a screening of course we expect from our visitors to respect the works. Since our space is not very large, when it’s dark even the dimmed light from a single phone can be pretty disturbing for the viewing experience.
Q: How do you see the future of this expanding relationship between art institutions and social media? Do you think a continually growing number of institutions will become more embracing of social media platforms and enhance their presence and activity on those platforms, as it seems to be the case?
A: The future of digital technologies and how us, as the art community, will continue to use them is unknown yet very exciting! We tend to use these platforms to create a community for sharing knowledge, ideas and information. We do learn and get inspired from each other so why not continue to use these platforms to connect with one another? I believe that future will bring new ways of perceiving and sharing art, creating new discussions on topics such as “What is art?” and “Who is an artist?”. We will all experience and learn together.
Q: What about from the perspective of the audience and visitors? In your opinion will they continue to increasingly engage with art through social media, by sharing their experience of art on those platforms, or at one point this trend will reach its limit and they will start becoming weary of it?
A: I don’t think this is a trend that one will be tired of. I just think we are going to be very tired because of carrying those smartphones and holding them up straight to get photos with a perfect angle, but probably technologies will find a way to solve these problems soon. I believe our cyborg generation will never leave their digital media platforms, we will create more platforms, maybe alternative ones with more interactive or user-friendly options. But at the end our Internet age just created a new digital world that represents our physical world. So why not learn how to represent it correctly or efficiently?