When drunk Australian Nathan “Hopey” Hope fell and bit through his lip in 2002, he didn’t know he was about to make linguistic history. “Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie,” he wrote on an online forum alongside a photo of his injury — the first known use of the term on record.
“Selfies are ubiquitous and unavoidable. They’re everywhere,” says D.C.-based artist Brendan L. Smith. That’s why he and seven other local artists decided to put together a show exploring the practice, “Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us.” “Selfies raise interesting ideas about identity and how we project this false concept of ourselves online,” he says.
Don’t look for glamorous Kim Kardashian-style pics in this exhibit, which opened Saturday and features multiple pieces from each participant. The artists — many of whom avoid social media — explore self-presentation and virtual worlds through sculpture, abstract painting and collage. One contributor, Jerome Skiscim, had never taken a selfie until a week before the show opened, when he needed a photo of himself to promote an artist talk.
“I took 10 or 12 of them before I got something decent,” he says. “It’s the most awkward thing I’ve ever done.”
Cultural DC’s Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW; through March 11, free.
‘Etch A Sketch Bust,’ Michael Booker
Booker wanted to juxtapose the ephemeral with the eternal, so he painted the image of a marble bust as it might appear on an Etch A Sketch. “With an Etch A Sketch, you shake it and it’s gone, while marble sculptures are supposed to last forever,” he says. Both art forms, as well as selfies, represent an ultimately impossible quest to freeze time. “Even the bust is going to crumble eventually,” he says.
‘Self-Portrait With Stars,’ Jerome Skiscim
Skiscim created this work by layering objects on a piece of photographic paper, painting it with chemicals and then exposing it to light, a process known as chemography. The rectangles with the geometric shapes inside (created with stickers and stencils) represent the analytical, digital realm, he says. “To me, it looks like math or logic.” The circle at the top represents a more organic, spiritual existence. The background, which Skiscim created by applying cooking spray before the photography chemicals, “represents the noise of the world and the noise of your thoughts,” he says.
‘Selfie With Lips,’ Megan Maher
Maher’s piece is a mixed-media self-portrait. “I lived in rural Indiana for a little bit as a kid, so I included a contour map of the county I lived in,” she says. She studied her lips closely before drawing them. “I was noticing all the cracks and lines that have shown up now, so I drew those, but then I also drew some [more lips] on a day when I was wearing lip balm, when the lines were filled in. It kind of reinforces what we do with our selfies on social media — taking photos over and over and trying to hide our imperfections.”
‘Humanity Digitized,’ Brendan L. Smith
Smith’s sculpture uses technology from a variety of eras to show how the urge to capture one’s image has spanned centuries. “There’s a Brownie camera from the ’50s as the head, and around the body there are a bunch of old tintype photos and cellphone circuit boards.” Taken together, the figurine captures “the idea that this human form is becoming a computer,” he says. “Eventually, maybe we just become our digital selves, like [in] ‘Tron.’ ”