Last Friday, I was wandering around the National Gallery with a dear friend, when we walked by a room with a carpet in it. It was so striking I had to immediately get up close to stare at it.
My friend, who is an artist, said that there’s a reason there are no carpets and no furniture in art galleries as they are way too distracting. Too right. We were captivated. That said, some people hadn’t noticed and were trailing mud across it in their quest to get to the paintings.
Typing this now I can’t even remember which paintings were in that room as the carpet was all I could look at, until we found the explanation on the wall saying that it was an art installation, which was what I thought when I first went over to investigate.
The carpet had been specially designed to reflect the materials of the room, so the wood on the painting frames, the colours of the walls, and the marble round the door frames, were all represented in the carpet. It was thick and plush so that people would sit or lie on it. It was empty.
I lay on the carpet and looked at the glass ceiling which had a draped net curtain across it with the same pattern as the carpet, and there was a soundtrack of people and noise representing the demonstrations which occur out the front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, not that I noticed the noise really.
Apparently, it was designed to encourage us to see the old paintings from a different angle and literally in a new light, as the floaty netting changed the light distribution in the room. It was a fascinating idea and I loved it. I also loved lying down on my back in the middle of the National Gallery and wondered if I could/should/would do that in other rooms, other Galleries, other museums.
Lying there, I thought: Oh I should get up, go over to my backpack, get my phone, and take a picture of the floatiness for Instagram, which struck me even then as hilarious since a) I don’t even have Instagram on my phone because it kept glitching and, b) I hadn’t even taken a picture of my friend whom I hadn’t seem for nearly a quarter of a century because my phone is always in my bag and getting it out seems to interrupt the moment. Why can’t I be one of those people who whips out their phone in a moment’s notice? No pockets, that’s why.
As I lay there a bit longer I thought perhaps I should get my phone and take a pic of me and me pal lying on the floor (would that be awkward?) and then get one of the ceiling, but that carpet was really comfy, so I decided to enjoy the moment. I didn’t need a photo of the floaty netting on the glass ceiling on this room in the National Gallery, there’d be a billion of them online – yeah right, I can’t find a single picture of the floaty netting. And, thankfully, my friend had already taken a pic of us together in front of Van Gogh’s chair after I recalled a recurring nightmare I had as a child about being in a room with a chair just like that, though I’d never seen/had one in real life.
As I was lying on the carpet looking at the paintings which I can’t recall at all, but the carpet and drapery are vivid in my mind, I asked myself why I needed to put the floaty netting on Instagram. Is that the equivalent of me climbing up there and writing: Ruth woz here! ? Or, was it to capture the experience so that I would remember it?
In my blog Social computing: Tribes and Tribulations I share something Steve Pavlina said after he had deleted all of his social media when he found he was snapping pictures for Instagram rather than for himself:
I’ll take a smile over a smiley any day.
People who read that blog often quote that exact line as it strikes a chord and I wrote that blog well before lockdown. Instagram for me has always been to capture the experiences I have in real life but like I’ve asked before am I too busy capturing rather than experiencing? That said, I have loved being on Instagram and scrolling through my pix since the day I was invited onto it by an old school friend back in July 2013.
My first pic, which is at the top of this blog, is a picture of the sky and the trees as I am lying on back on my yoga mat, and eve now I remember exactly how I felt as I took it.
I’d dropped my kids off at school, where the Year 1 teacher and her TA were absolute morons whose arrogant incompetence put my baby girl in danger more than once – she ended up in hospital after they accused her of attention seeking – and yet by law I had to leave her with them even though they didn’t ever feel obligated by law or common sense to read the medical care plan or listen to me.
So, I took my yoga mat to the park. I was still sore and tired from two years of cancer related surgery and treatment, my dad was not long dead, my mam was now living in a nursing home looking like she was about to take her last breath at any minute, but lying on the mat and looking at the sun helped me let go of all the pain and fear for just a minute, and it was good. I felt lighter. And, thanks to Instagram, anytime I wanted that feeling back I could just get out my phone and see that snap, I guess I chose the Polaroid effect to remind me of a lighter, more carefree time, long ago and far away.
I loved how I could change the filters and create frames and make each snap I put up look old, or bright, or sepia toned, it added another layer. It was magic and freeing and I loved how it made me feel arty and creative with an eye for a picture, whether that is true or not, it made what I made better, and isn’t that the point of good software?
So, it is only fitting that I was lying on my back in the National Gallery 10 years on looking up at a sky of floaty curtains and decided that it was not right that I was half on Instagram in my mind instead of fully in an art installation, which led to me quitting my Instagram habit for good.
Over the years Instagram has gotten more complicated and since Facebook/Meta took over, it is crammed full of videos and advertising and DMs from randomers wanting to do business, and a feed full of people I don’t follow and I barely see the people I do follow and I have no control over what I see. It makes me feel lost and tired.
My last pic shown below is one I took the night before I went to the National Gallery to contemplate the Instagram (my dad used to always say he was off to contemplate the infinite when I asked him where he was going) of a 1969 model of the Barbican on a night out with my hubby.
Being a Teessider, loud and proud, #utb, I am a fan of Brutalist architecture, just thinking of Dorman Long takes me home. However as fascinating as the Barbican is, to me, it’s like some weird 60’s social experiment and I wouldn’t like to live there, there’s far too many dingy cuts and corners to get mugged in (I grew up on a council estate and never quite felt safe) and yet people pay millions for a flat in the Barbican, so I snapped a pic to ponder it some more.
And looking at that pic reminds me of looking at the model of the Barbican in the Barbican, after drinking dirty martinis in the Barbican Martini Bar, on our way to eat curry, and how tasty everything was.
The pic itself is a bit boring as long gone are the days when I could chose cool Polaroid frames and or film reel frames. Now it’s all glossy and shiny and making movies, like we are all marketing machine selling things even though Instagram to me was only ever about a photo album of my life .
A decade is a long time and even with an average posting of one or two photos a week, it adds up to 1,128 photos on there, which is a lot to look at and we used to look at them a lot.
Now, I just have far too many of my pics to navigate and there’s no way of curating them into something easy to absorb. So, lying in the National Gallery which is heavily curated and carefully laid out, and thinking about the busy Instagram jumble of my memories, it felt like my journey with Instagram had come to an end.
I backed up the pix, deleted my account and now am grateful that I have a decade of beautifully filtered, uniform, memories of ma vie quotidienne which will lift my heart every time I look at them. I just have to sort them out first.
So long Instagram, and thanks for all the pix.