Socially Networked Culture: Institutions, Images and Interactions
Over the last decade, social media has emerged within mainstream aspects of cultural institutional activity. Online platforms have been adopted by institutional marketing teams, exploring social media as a route to direct communication with broader, global audiences. Social platforms can be spaces for experimentation and cultivation. However, they are also sites of caution and engagement with participatory potential has been reticent, instead defaulting to a broadcast model of communication. But social media platforms have a wider institutional reach than marketing departments, functioning as sites of artistic performance, later acquired and preserved within institutional collections; or as spaces for display and recontextualisation, challenging established modes of curatorial practice.
In fact, social media presents numerous curatorial challenges, as online users carry out many related tasks of selecting, sorting, sequencing and interpreting images. It raises questions about the compatibility of entrenched curatorial models with the dispersed and interaction-based nature of post-photographic image cultures, and it introduces new value systems into institutional spaces. Curators themselves straddle this schism, maintaining online profiles that can buttress against professional identities and layer official voices, revealing the oftentimes arbitrary discernments of ‘user’, ‘curator’, ‘artist’ and ‘institution’ in a climate of hybridity. In an environment where individuals behave more like brands and brands more like individuals, what is the position of the cultural institution?
This paper seeks to unpack these ideas, examining how social media activity is a symptom of the change required for institutions to harness the reach and scope provided by online platforms, and to accurately represent the fuzzy edges between ‘art’ and image culture; and image culture and social behaviours in the 2010s. For museums are contemporaneous institutions serving contemporaneous audiences, and representations of lived experience within and without the museum should be at least somewhat aligned. In these contexts, social media is an illuminating point of contact between image culture, institutions and audiences; where voices carry the same weight and images depend on the interactions within which they are generated, exchanged and experienced.