Let’s be honest. Did you know about Cecil the Lion before he was killed? Were you one of millions to tweet and post your opinions on the matter? Are you just jumping on the bandwagon? London artist Celina Teague addresses these issues in her newest exhibition, “I Think Therefore, I #”. Here she interprets some of the world’s most shocking news stories over the past 12 months that have had the biggest impact on social media. I travelled to the Kristin Hjellegard gallery in Wandsworth to find out what it is about today’s society and its love-hate relationship with social media that inspired Celina.
Over the past decade, social media has taken the world by storm. With an estimation of over 2 billion users worldwide across multiple platforms, it’s clear we are actively engaging with each other online. Within social media, hashtags give you the ability to globally share news, thoughts and opinions within seconds proving instrumental in the delivering of news.
“There were so many news stories coming my way at the beginning of the year, like with all of us because we live with our mobile phones attached to us, we take them to bed with us, we go to the loo with them”. Celina clearly believes it’s almost impossible to avoid the news and with each major news story comes a parallel discussion as others join in the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and the like. The online buzz builds the momentum that creates a hashtag, and that in itself is a powerful tool or as Celina puts it, “dangerous force that can ruin lives”. Examples include scientist Tim Hunt, a Nobel laureate who made a throw-away comment on women & science, who had a disproportionate response over his comments, demonstrating a trial by social media resulting in serious damage to his reputation. Most recently we had Walter Palmer, killing the famous Cecil the lion, “he got the same punishment as Tim Hunt, and I do question, is there a difference in what people do but seem to get the same punishment, they just get torn down and I think that the implications worry me more. If we continue to tear down people for making silly throw away comments that are clearly not intended to be nasty, for example, are we not doing ourselves a disservice by meting out such a serious amount of criticism, because people will just clam up and not say anything”.
However with all this negative publicity comes positivity… right? Celina describes herself as something of an ‘armchair activist’, “I mean what does it cost us? Just click, forward and post something, ask for a petition here and there, obviously it’s a lot more effort to motivate ourselves to go stand outside an embassy and protest against dolphins being slaughtered, for example, but I’m actually all for it in the sense that I think people are becoming much more aware of what’s important and we don’t even have an excuse anymore of saying we don’t know about things”. Celina carries a point, after Cecil the Lion was killed; airlines were quick to ban the shipment of big-game trophies, discouraging the hunting of wild animals. A more uplifting example was Sean O’Brien, or you may know him as the ‘Dancing Man’, he was filmed dancing happily and then looking sad with the caption ‘Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing’. There was an immediate uprising of social media supporters, invoking the hashtag #FindDancingMan on Twitter. This was shared thousands of times and eventually he was found, flown out from Liverpool to California to party with 1000 supporters and celebrities, including Moby as the DJ and Pharrell Williams via video.
At first glance Celina’s exhibition, displays a colourful array of aesthetics, using combinations of emojis, cartoons and hashtags; however it soon becomes apparent that this artwork carries a series of deeper, more powerful messages that juxtapose the Simpson-like characters and ‘#nomakeupselfies’ on display. Each piece has started out as a news story and it’s clear in some more than others, what lies beneath. Owner of Coco de Mer, Samatha Roddick’s expressed her thoughts on the artwork; “They encapsulate our social movement of being inundated by quite provocative news pieces, whether it’s Charlie Hebdo or somebody being kidnapped, murders, rapes, gang rape, we are constantly being inundated by really extreme press and in a way of where it’s being presented as very friendly within social media, so I think it’s actually brilliant”.
Social media is clearly deeply rooted in society and its relationship with news is a potent one that has the power to completely change lives, for better or for worse and we as humans are clearly brought together by a common enemy, but instead of seeking out and ridiculing individuals, can we not channel our aggression and passion towards greater and more worthy causes, generating more positivity across the world. What we do know for sure is that social media isn’t going anywhere soon…#OrIsIt?