From Cup to Instagram: Art and Social Engagement in the 21st Century
Ongoing through September 22
Opening reception Tuesday, September 10, 4 – 5:30 p.m.
Cyrus M. Running Gallery, Concordia College
Katie Pepera is looking at a collection of photos hung on a wall. They depict people from all walks of life. Many are eating or laughing around picnic tables. Plus, there are some photos of pets and a few of forested landscapes. She singles one out in particular.
“That’s my dad on the tractor,” she says.
If that sounds to you like a collection of family photos, or a standard day thumbing through your Instagram stream, you’d be half right. That photo of Katie’s dad is actually hanging in an art gallery. But, it came from her Instagram account.
Specifically, it’s part of a new, ongoing exhibition at Concordia College’s Cyrus M. Running Gallery that is filling its walls with submitted Instagram photos from audience members. The exhibition, From a Cup to Instagram: Art and Social Engagement in the 21st Century, is currently on display at the gallery and will be up through September 22.
Pepera is assembling the exhibition along with fellow art history senior Lauren Johnson and Concordia art professor Susan Lee. That’s “assembling”–present tense–because the exhibition isn’t a finished thing put on display. It’s more of a participatory experience. The public can have their images added to the wall by tagging Instagram photos with #happycord, and Pepera and Johnson will then print them out and hang them up.
Pepera said the idea said the idea came from discussion in Lee’s museum studies around doing something a bit outside the norm.
“We really liked the idea of engaging with the viewer and challenging them with the notion of ‘what is art,’” Pepera said. Lee added that they wanted to introduce the notion of snapshot photography as a new element of art history.
“We wanted to challenge this notion that art is for the few,” Lee said, “with something like this, everyone can participate.”
In addition to the photos, the exhibition has an atmosphere created through “happy” songs suggested by audience members, a place to write a word or phrase that evokes happiness, and a place for two people to sit and have a structured conversation about happiness. The exhibition coincides with Concordia’s Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium, to be held September 9 – 11, which is also themed around the notion of happiness.
The two students were moved to try their hand at this kind of exhibition thanks to the influence and consultation of NDSU art department head Michael Strand. Strand has been busy on these kinds of participatory social practice projects for the last several years. The Concordia exhibition includes documentation and objects from Strand’s “Cuplomacy” project, which passed a cup Strand made between four faith leaders across the United States.
He said that expanding his idea of social practice art work meant the Concordia organizers needed to go beyond having his work displayed, so he asked Pepera and Johnson to roll up their sleeves and try a project for themselves.
“The first thing I do is try to inspire people to look past art as an object,” he said. “They’re harvesting information in a new way with this idea they came at independently, which is cool.” In addition to his involvement with the exhibition, Strand will also give a presentation on his work as part of the Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium.
Strand said that collaborating with other artists and curators on such projects is an experience he’s still getting used to, but he said this experience has been “really healthy.”
“There have been multiple levels of involvement. I loved the idea of working with Concordia and their students and having our institutions working together,” he said.
Lee echoed Strand’s sentiment and touched on the impact that his work is having not only in the area, but nationwide.
“His work is very engaging, the way it breaks us out of the gallery environment,” she said.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, September 2, issue.
Images, from top: Katie Pepera in front of a display of submitted Instagram photos in Concordia’s Cyrus M. Running Gallery, photo by the author; a submitted photo by Gia Rassier, courtesy of Concordia; a submitted photo by Jasmine Lara, courtesy of Concordia; a submitted photo by Alexandra Messerli, courtesy of Concordia.