Selfie to Self Expression – Saatchi Gallery Review

In 2016, 24 billion selfies were uploaded onto the internet, and it’s been reported that ‘millennials’ (sorry) spend one hour each week to taking selfies. Given the huge relevance of the selfie in modern culture, we visited the recent Selfie to Self Expression at the Saatchi Gallery in London to see how the selfie has transcended Instagram and cemented its status in the art world.

The selfie itself has been through one hell of a journey since its official indoctrination into the English language. In my experience, it’s grown from grainy, emo Webcam pictures, to expertly lit selfies, to silly selfies sent every day on Snapchat. In the broader sense, front facing cameras have solidified the selfie as an image sent by everyone – not just vain teenagers. Our mums, grandmas, aunties, uncles, you name it – they’re probably taking selfies.

Whilst that awful ‘first, let me take a selfie’ song has made us groan and roll our eyes whenever the word is used in conversation, we cannot deny that we are a nation who love a self facing pic. So, naturally, the Saatchi Gallery have combined this interest in vanity, and the way we use the selfie, to present to the world an entire exhibition.

Fusing art and modern imagery, the exhibition takes you through a journey. You walk into a room full of some of the most famous self portraits in art history, such as Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh’s self portraits, but with a modern twist. Each image is projected onto a tablet, and visitors have the opportunity to then ‘like’ each image, as though they were intended for Instagram. An interesting and observational social commentary, showing how much the like means to those uploading selfies – however would Frida Kahlo care for this mindless engagement? Perhaps not. But a concept that sucks you straight into the purpose behind the selfie – to get likes, love, a sense that someone else acknowledges and approves of you. 

The exhibition continues to merge technology in with the selfie, especially through the immersive experience of Christopher Baker’s ‘Hello World! Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love The Noise’ video installation. An entire room is full of projected tiles of people speaking to their webcams, projecting their thoughts and feelings into the world through their own medium. A sobering experience to think about how everyone has the ability to voice their opinion, no matter how many people are listening. Also the room where, ironically, I saw the most amount of selfies being taken.

Other stand out pieces in the exhibition included Tracey Emin’s ‘I’ve Got It All’ series, and selfies taken by icons such as Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick and George Harrison. This reminder that the selfie does not have to be restricted to a smart phone is powerful, and shows us that self expression has always been at the forefront of the art world to convey that this is who I am, I existed, I was here. One of the final rooms displayed some of the most popular and famous selfies of the 21st Century, including the Oscars selfie and (of course) a variation of Kim Kardasian’s best work. As, let’s face it, you can’t have a selfie exhibition without Kim’s pert derriere making an appearance, breaking the internet and the word ‘selfie’ as we know it.

The self-expression of the selfie really shines through within the gallery, and the pieces of tech that are also shown throughout (including an installation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer which gives smoke in your eyes as you take a photo) also comment on the selfie in the modern age. Does every selfie slowly chip away at the real emotion behind your eyes, or does it give you more power, more confidence, and a self-propelled feeling of existence? Or is it simply a moment in time, captured, without meaning. It is the new autograph, the new way to prove your worth, and it’s not going anywhere – it’s an art form that doesn’t discriminate, we are all capable of a selfie to show the world who we are. So let’s embrace it, encourage it, and use it for good.

The Selfie to Self Expression exhibition is free at the Saatchi Gallery in London until the 3oth May.

Louisa Davies

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