With Degree Show season now over, we continue to take a look back at our students’ final projects and the inspirations behind them.
MA Graphic Communication Design student Dina Bukva’s final project, Nudes and Croissants, is a collection of short illustrated films which focus on the images and behaviour of social media users. Experimenting with fictional narratives which adopt the language of Instagram, Bukva reveals how the way we see and present ourselves is being modified for social media platforms and their technology. For each film she has created different characters, each of which deal with different issues and small tragedies: Susie doesn’t have the Gucci jumper that Ofelia has and Annabelle wants hair that moves in the wind. As part of the Instagram community, Bukva’s characters are striving for perfection. They are not designed as idols, instead, they indicate the amount of work required to fulfil the levels of self-presentation Instagram demands. Here, Bukva talks us through the five stages which led her to the culmination of this project.
Nudes and Croissants began as a personal project, a bit less than a year ago. At that point I was focusing on the circulation of images, such as fake images and images on the internet in general. Since its early inception, photography has been used as a tool for capturing evidence – acting as proof of an event. This assumption of integrity gives photographs authority, power, interest and temptation. However, while the way we use cameras has changed over time, irrevocably, the trust we have for images is still present. We expect images to offer a representation of reality. But as John Berger claimed in 1972, “the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe.”
I thought about Berger’s writings in relation to the way we see and respond to images in our contemporary society. I started to look. I looked at images circulating around me. I looked at my friends, the images they create and the platforms they circulate them on. As Georges Perec describes something as simple as a street in Species of Spaces, I started to describe what I saw on Instagram. Actually, I started to draw it in the form of fictional characters.
“I found a folder on my computer of all these selfies I made when I was thirteen. I could see myself trying to construct my identity through photography.” – Eva O’Leary
Eva O’Leary is a photographer I came across in an interview in ELEPHANT magazine. The inspirations she mentioned in this interview really touched me. Probably because I saw myself in the thirteen-year-old image folder. I saw how I was growing up, struggling with myself. I saw my friends and all those faces I see posing on Instagram on a daily basis. The images I imagined in that folder got stuck in my head for a while. There was something about it that interested me, and it struck a chord with my ongoing work about self-representation through images. I started to collect pictures I saw on Instagram. I found it interesting to see how a platform like Instagram could make people all around the world respond in the same way.
Uploading a selfie to Instagram means posing for the camera. Everyone does this, but what interests me is the moments before and after a picture is taken. I produced a collection of illustrations which represented my observations on behaviour of social media users. Looking at the characters I was drawing I started to give them names and wrote about their lives. I created Susie, who likes croissants and carpets. Every day she takes a picture on her carpet and uploads it to Instagram. Of course Susie has friends and suddenly there was Lucy, who had just come back from vacation. Susie was jealous of Lucy’s tan so she didn’t upload the selfie they took together a few days ago. Using humour and fictional narratives I began to translate the complexity of the network of social media into illustration.
I came across Amalia Ulman’s project Excellences & Perfections, which is a good example of how social media can be turned into a performative space. Playing the role of an “It Girl”, Ulman became a fictional figure, living the perfect life and posting the perfect pictures. Within my work I also create fictional characters who are following a certain lifestyle. But Excellences & Perfections made me realise that I am interested in creating a critical response to a platform by giving a deeper insight into the topic and life of each character. Susie might have the perfect carpet and the perfect picture with her carpet but Susie didn’t upload the picture with Lucy because she was jealous of Lucy’s tan. Ulman became an idol. The world of Instagram allowed her satirisation to become a reality. My characters want to show that kind of perfection too, but they do not become anyone’s idol. I want people to identify with Susie, Lucy, Ofelia or Annabelle. I want them to realise how absurd the social media world can be though it’s more humane failings.
I soon found my own way of responding to issues in our society through illustration: making films and drawing characters with funny nipples, big shoulders and hairy legs. Several times I have been asked, what if I run out of ideas or what if I get bored talking about Instagram. I respond by saying that the method I have created can be used to talk about anything. If I become bored of Instagram I will write stories about Tinder.