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Laurence Philomene, Same exhibition
Photography Laurence Philomene

How Instagram is breeding a new generation of idols

Finding ‘yourself’ in images of cute pugs and TV memes? You’re not alone. Digi-artist Molly Soda explores distant intimacy and the internet

We all know that feeling – scrolling endlessly on social media and in rolls the perfect picture to summarise exactly how you’re feeling. Most of the time our "OMG, this is so me!” moments are more likely to be videos of cute pugs on hung-over Monday mornings or The Simple Life screen grabs, as opposed to life affirming art. Now a group of young creatives are seeking to intellectualise this insta-slang with new group show Same, curated by reigning royalty of the Internet, Molly Soda.

Digital artist Soda found herself increasingly fascinated by this phenomenon, “I love that people can feel so connected to images that aren’t their own,” Soda explains. “It’s almost comforting in a way, to know that we have the ability to feel connected to complete strangers.” Documenting her life online, Soda found herself increasingly interested in the way people interact with her work, leading her to curate upcoming group exhibition Same. Featuring five artists, (Brie MorenoLaurence PhilomeneSarah CohenNooran Matties and Molly herself), Same is a ten day group art exhibition exploring her fascination with these ‘same’ moments and showcasing artists who embody the subject matter, as well as creatives whose work Soda felt connected to. The exhibition deals with this idea of distant intimacy and connecting with people, ideas, and even reality TV screen caps, on a personal level.

Unlike celebrities, whose actual contact with their social media platforms is often minimal, artists working online have full access to how people react to their work. Not only this, but creatives also have the ability to not only interact with their fans but become fans of other artists themselves. With the ease of forming a personal relationship with someone you admire at the click of a button, working online is becoming an increasingly shared experience. Producing constantly behind a keyboard can be isolating, but 21st century artists are forming their own micro communities through dashboards and newsfeeds that may never cement themselves in the real world. “I have the most ‘same’ moments with other girls in my collective. (LA photographer) Hobbes Ginsberg and I have a lot in common, and will often make blog posts where the other one will reply, ‘I'm feeling this so much too,’ for example,” Coven collective member, and exhibiting artist, Laurence Philomene says. It’s this attitude that has made way for a huge up-rise in collectives such as ClandestineBunny and the Coven, who are all pulling from the same melting pot within their own groups and supporting each other.

Fellow exhibitor Brie Moreno attributes her motivation for creating to the people she met whilst hanging out online, “so many artists on the Internet have motivated me to get back into making comics. The Internet has made me break through all fears of sharing my work with other people.” 

“I love that people can feel so connected to images that aren’t their own. It’s almost comforting in a way, to know that we have the ability to feel connected to complete strangers” – Molly Soda

Soda has found positivity amongst her peers and a move away from accusations of imitation, “It’s so silly to accuse anyone of ‘copying’ – I’m so tired of hearing that. There are always going to be common ties between works of a certain time.” Using her influence to elevate her friends, Soda personifies this new generation of supportive creatives. But when dealing in work so personal to their lives, do these artists ever feel uncomfortable with these captions and labels? “I love it because I crave attention”, admits Moreno. However, Philomene, (whose series entitled “Me vs Others” draws from her own discomfort of over-sharing online), finds the phenomenon more unsettling, “I always find it weird when people identify with self-portraits of mine, or with this series specifically, because I put so much of myself into my images.”

This idolisation of online artists has lead to a hierarchal shift in the type of people young women view as role models. Presenting an alternative to looking up to unattainable celebrities, online personalities have the power to influence teenagers and young adults on a positive level. Teaching their followers about feminism, intersectionality, mental health and even just documenting the process of growing up, Philomene views this affection as a new manifestation of old adolescent traditions, “teenagers like having something they can identify with. I don't think it's a new phenomenon at all. If I look back at my early teenage years, my diary is full of those,‘OMG, I can relate so much’, comments next to song lyrics or pictures.”

This affection towards artists, editors and even just well dressed girls running Instagram accounts with thousands of followers, has manifested itself in the form of ‘mom’ captioning. “I’ve noticed girls have started to comment with ‘mom’ on my Instagram photos, which is very sweet but also bizarre since I’m probably less than ten years older than them,” Soda continues, “but I do think of myself as a ‘caretaker’ or ‘mother’ figure on the Internet in a lot of ways, especially the older I get.” An extension of the ‘same’, or ‘this is so me’ phenomenon, a ‘mom’ comment cements this role model relationship between viewer and artist, legitimising the influence these young working creatives are having on their peers and admirers’ lives.

As social media evolves, only time will tell how this sense of personal relationships and community will evolve. Companies are already cashing in on the trend, gifting insta-famous personalities and peddling their own relatable ‘this is so me’ attire. But with exhibitions such as Same supporting and promoting this close online community, one thing that seems unlikely to dwindle is these young artists’ respect and affection for one and other.

Same is on show at New York’s Stream Gallery from 13 August – 23 August, 2015. For more information, click here