14.02.2020 - 28.06.2020

Selfies: Look at me, what do you see?

From a conversation with Sota Maeda, a member of staff of the Russian History and Culture Department of Chiba University:

S.M. – I know that you don’t use modern gadgets, you don’t have a smartphone, and, allegedly, you can’t even write a text message. Where, then, does this interest in the selfie, one of the key phenomena of modern mass culture, come from?

N.A. – It’s true, I’m a complete cretin when it comes to IT. Writing a text message, for me, is torture. It’s far easier to make a telephone call or write a letter. I use a computer for the simplest of tasks – as a typing machine or to search for information. I don’t have a smartphone and I can’t imagine what I might need it for. I have a button phone with as few functions as possible. Luckily, you can still find those in the shops. But I have – perhaps specifically because of my IT-stupidity – a heightened conceptual interest in all these communicational-digital things. And you are right – selfies are one of the most astonishing and absurd phenomena in this digital-communicational community. Every year, around the world, several thousand people die trying to take standout selfies. Good Lord, it’s fantastical, idiotic egocentrism, it’s some kind of off-the-charts selfishness! Who cares about your mug? “I’m in bed”, “I’m having breakfast”, “I’m at work”, “I’m at the beach”, “I’m at the cemetery”, “I’m in heaven”, “I’m in hell.” … If you’re that interested in your physiognomy, then take a look in the mirror. Revolting? Spit on the mirror. You really like it? Draw a self-portrait on the mirror. It’s important, of course, that it be a good self-portrait. Like the self-portraits of Leonardo, Goya, Van Gogh with his ear cut off, or even Giovanni Bacci, nicknamed Sodoma, at the least.

- Perhaps it’s because I’m Japanese, but when I look at your drawings, a strange analogy comes to mind. I think that there’s a paradoxical kinship with ukiyo-e, the graphic art of the Edo era. With the portraits of the refined geishas, theater actors, sumo wrestlers and other personages who are so astonishing in our modern world. What do you think about that?

- As an unworthy person, I feel shame at such a comparison. Who am I to be compared with the ukiyo-e masters, the pictures of the floating world? I believe that that’s how the term is translated. Although it would be interesting, of course, to look at selfies taken by those “beauties of our time” if they’d had smartphones. In short, I don’t think that these exceptionally refined, educated and, in every sense, experienced ladies would have taken part in such egocentric nonsense. So thank you to the great Utamaro for having drawn them. But who am I? To the extent allowed by my abilities, I do handmade selfies of myself, or reconstruct the idiocy of today’s surrounding world.