The German artist Jörg Heikhaus aka Alex Diamond transfers Instagram posts into woodcuts. With this new body of work, he plays on the notion of religion, digital currency and challenges Instagram-popularity with a real-world experiment.
Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has changed our world of (self-) reflection by providing a platform where we can share our everyday life – what we see, what we eat, and how we dress – with the rest of the world.
Like all contemporary phenomena, Instagram has also been picked by artists as a theme or medium for their works. Most famously, the appropriation artist Richard Prince would enlarge Instagram posts of other users, add a comment of his own and then sell them as fine art prints. In contrast, the young artist Amalia Ulman used Instagram as a medium and became popular by using the photo-sharing app for several months to tell the story of her life, which in the end turned out to be an elaborate lie staged as a work of art.
Jörg Heikhaus aka Alex Diamond, a German artist from Hamburg, is most famously known for his multi-layered wood sculptures. In his most recent body of work, he uses Instagram posts as motifs for his craft and transfers the digital image into unique woodcuts measuring 18 x 24 x 3 cm, capturing the squared photo as well as the top and lower captions of an Instagram post just like it would appear on a smartphone screen. This series of work is called #gefaelltdas referring to the German term of the like-button with which viewer can express their positive reaction to the photo. Each woodcut is titled with the number of its likes on the day when Diamond discovered it during his extensive research for iconic photos on Instagram. For example ‘#Gefällt 45.319 Mal’ is an image of a fluffy white bunny by the user @adorable_animals and this photo collected 43,319 likes within 15 hours. Where the world of Instagram is fluid and constantly new posts appear in one’s photo stream, Diamond is not just preserving a photo but also freezes a moment in time; with just one additional ‘like’, it would become an entirely new image for him. The same contrast is apparent considering it takes only seconds to post a photo on Instragram compared to the many hours it takes to carve a woodcut that looks like a photo. You have to touch the carved wood in order to understand the media. Thanks to this tactile quality, the resulting pieces work as sculptures as well.
Diamond’s inspiration for the #gefaelltdas series were Russian icon paintings from the 10th century, which were small-scale panel paintings used for domestic worship of saints. Nowadays, social media and following popular Instagram users has become like a religion in itself. Decades ago people used to pray several times a day. Today instead of praying, every free moment – while we wait for the bus, before we go to sleep – we check the latest Instagram posts, admiring the exciting lives of both friends and strangers. In this sense, celebrities have become the new saints, promoting their popularity via Instagram. For example, Diamond also immortalized a provocative photo of Miley Cyrus titled ‘#Gefällt 341.391 Mal’ in which she looks into the camera while seductively eating a banana.
Aside from cute animals and provocative portraits of anonymous women, the #gefaelltdas serie is also a great example of Diamond’s humour. Where the entire series is an investigation into contemporary interaction, perception and deception, works like ‘#Gefällt 11.474 Mal’ depicting a sign saying “Sorry No Wi-Fi. Talk to each other and get drunk” (found on the Instagram account of famous art collector Swizz Beats) can be understood as an ironic critique of media consumption nowadays.
In the world of social media, each ‘like’ becomes a reward so that the total amount of ‘likes’ turns into a currency, reflecting the importance of an Instagram user. Blogger, most successfully fashion blogger, can turn this digital currency into real money, but how does it work for artists? Does the number of followers and online popularity really reflect the number of collectors or result in sales? – “Doesn’t matter. As an artist you have to be active on Instagram even though it requires time which I’d rather like to spend on actually crafting new works,” is Diamond’s reaction to the Instagram hype. His #gefaelltdas series will be shown publicly for the first time by the Danish Galerie Wolfsen during Art Basel at the Scope fair, and Diamond is already curious how people will respond. Will the number of likes and a photo’s digital popularity also be matched by the popularity of the image in form of a woodcut? Which image will be posted and hash tagged the most during the fair, and which one will sell first? With a self-portrait titled ‘#Gefällt 22 Mal’, Diamond himself is also up for sale and part of the experiment. As of right now, this woodcut is the most popular motive of the #gefaelltdas series one on his Instagram account @Alexxxdiamond, even more popular than the cute puppies and the sexy nudes.