Celina Teague’s ‘I Think Therefore I Hashtag’ Looks At The Dark World of Hashtag Activism

Artist Celina Teague interprets the news stories that have made the biggest impact on social media in the past 12 months in her latest exhibition

It’s easy to misinterpret the dark, deep meaning behind artist Celina Teague’s latest collection due to her paintings’ seemingly optimistic and colourful exterior. However her newest exhibition, ‘I think therefore I #’ was inspired by Teague inability to switch off from the chilling images of global news stories that bombarded her online.

Feeling harrowed by a news feed filled with decapitated children, old men being pushed off buildings and the beheadings of journalists, Teague poured her interpretation of global atrocities through her own artwork.

Although her collection is entirely her own interpretation, it has certainly taken news offline, and encourages its viewers to discuss global stories away from 140 characters. We caught up with the bold, innovative artist to see just why she’s so sceptical of social media news.

So what interests you so much about people’s relationship with social media?

I find it fascinating that everyone wants to tell a story. You, me, journalists, ISIS – we all want to play with this new system of editing and uploading our story to an instant audience. However, it’s also people’s obsession with heavily filtering their lives on social media. Narcissism is now the norm and apps like Instagram allows us to present an edited, perfected version of ourselves.

So what do you think is so dangerous about social media?

It’s a mixed blessing. Whilst it’s the speediest way to get your views out there, it’s also the fastest way to get into trouble. It’s so uncontained, there’s total freedom, which therefore carries risks.

It’s the immediacy and instantness of your posts too…

Exactly, social media is still so new; we don’t really know where it’s going. It’s full of booby traps – there are random typos, regrettable remarks and posts can spread like wildfire.

What in particular is it about the hashtag you find so destructive?

I think it can breed sanctimonious mob mentality. For example, when Justine Sacco tweeted remarks about not contracting AIDS whilst she was in Africa because she was white, there was already #HasJustineLandedYet trending on Twitter. It allows people to post knee jerk comments so easily before going back to whatever they were doing, not thinking that in the meantime someone’s world has fallen apart.

But do you think the hashtag can also work in powerful, and postive, ways?

Yes, in some ways I do. For example there were causes such as the dolphin slaughter in the Faroe Islands and Yulin Dog festival that I didn’t know about until I saw it on Twitter, and the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. Although nothing really happened from that, it did put it at the top of the news agenda.

Do you think we find it so hard to switch off from news now because we’re a culture obsessed with Twitter?

We’re addicted to our phones. You only have to hop onto public transport to see most people glued to their phone. Being drip-fed negative and disturbing images constantly makes us as a society almost desensitised and numbed to these sorts of stories.

Do you think hashtags can skew someon’s opinion on a news topic?

Not entirely, but it certainly speeds up debate. Take Tim Hunt, the Nobel prize winning scientist. Female scientists all over the world posted images of themselves with the hashtag #distractinglysexy, looking anything but, in order to satirise his comments. He had to step down from his post for which he was eminently qualified. In my opinion the punishment outweighed the crime. Like I said before, it’s easy for people to forget when they post comments, and use hashtags that they could tear someone’s life apart. At the end of the day, we don’t have a clue where social media will be in 10 years time, it’s a leap into the unknown.

Catch Celina Teague’s exhibition, ‘I think therefore I #’ at the Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery until 5th September 2015.

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