Rebekah Brown is a creative technologist and digital designer.
She creates work that explores the artificiality of Instagram – a photo-sharing platform where users curate a staged reality of their life. The layout of an Instagram feed is meticulously planned, allowing one to stage a fake reality. We spend time ‘staging’ photographs as we consider their composition, colour palette, lighting, aesthetic, apply filters and take several photographs from the same angle to perfect this ‘Instagram-worthy’ photograph. Her work examines different aspects of Instagram culture as she creates work around her own Instagram engagement, the Instagram algorithm and aims to mock the weirdness of selfie museums – a fad that has dominated Instagram. Her work combines machine learning, 3D design, motion graphics and creative coding methods.
CandyLand is an ‘imagined environment’, and fake Instagram ‘experience’ built around the weirdness and artificiality of Instagram ‘experience’ museums – these ‘experiences’ are also referred to as selfie museums. CandyLand parodies these artificial spaces and uses humour, contrast, exaggeration, and puns to show it is satirical – emphasising how ‘weird’ these spaces are.
Instagram Museums are ‘experiences’ designed with the sole purpose of going to get the perfect ’selfie’ for your Instagram feed. These ‘experiences’ are brought to life through their staged social media presence. On Instagram, these companies curate a staged artificial reality that attracts customers to their venue. This is done through considering colour, aesthetic choices and the theme of their Instagram feed. CandyLand looks at the awkwardness and artificiality of these selfie museums, which are often designed around the theme of junk food or cheat food that is ‘forbidden’ in everyday life. Examples include The Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia and the ‘cheat food’ museum in LA.
The interior of these ‘experiences’ consist of bright colourful, candy themed backdrops that look good on camera. These spaces often include a candy themed ball-pit, that one is encouraged to pose in in-front of the camera. The themes of junk-food, candy and the notion of playing in a ball-pit are symbolic of childhood. We are compelled to visit these selfie museums as they are an escape from everyday life. Through advertisement, these museums appear to be a safe space allowing us to indulge in these ‘cheat foods’. This false sense of security influences us to visit these museums, spend a lot of money, revisit our childhood and indulge in whichever junk-food we desire. These museums are targeting consumers with the promise that it is acceptable to eat these ‘cheat’ foods when you visit these spaces.
This ‘imagined environment’ superimposes artificial computer-generated visuals of candy into reality. I experimented with colour, hue, effects, saturation and masks to make this ‘imagined environment’ more believable. I took inspiration from film, and a range of different directors. One director in particular who influenced my work, and inspired my design choices was Wes Anderson. In Wes Anderson’s films, the director has played with colour through hue and saturation to help deliver the mood of the movie. These movies are stunning and have a particular colour palette.
My CandyLand ‘imagined environment’ was documented through a promotional video and realised as a staged reality on its own Instagram profile. The CandyLand Instagram theme takes inspiration from the Museum of ice creams Instagram page. This staged social media presence is curated through consideration of colour, composition and staging. Furthermore, this ‘experience’ references the corny slogans repeated at these Instagram ‘experiences’, and reiterates the importance of smiling, and appearing like you are enjoying yourself in-front of the camera. I am influencing people to visit CandyLand but including humour and exaggeration to emphasise that this ‘experience’ is a parody of these ‘weird’ artificial spaces. Humour is used to show how overpriced these ‘experiences’ are, e.g. “only £25 for 1” is found written on a 3d model of gum-ball machine.
I think that starting up an Instagram profile was the most effective way of articulating this concept and parodying Instagram ‘experiences’.
CandyLand was created using Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D.
Feedback Loop is a project that seeks to control the Instagram Explore Page algorithm. This process explores uploading the machine-generated GAN images from the ‘Suggested Posts’ series to a separate Instagram account and using my personal Instagram account to engage with these images. This process forces the Explore Page algorithm to make assumptions about these images, therefore suggesting new results.
The Instagram Explore page consists of photos, videos, stories and products tailored for each user based on their Instagram engagement. I wanted to see how interacting with machine-generated images would affect the content that appeared on my Explore Page over time. Would this completely change the type of content tailored to me? After I used my account to interact with numerous posts containing GAN images (from the Suggested Posts series), this forced the algorithm to show more content comprising vibrant, scenic landscapes. The GAN images from my ‘Suggested Posts’ series consisted of muted pastel tones and the occasional splash of vibrant or rich colours. I then collected a dataset of posts from my newly updated Explore Page – these images were fed back through my machine learning model to see what the machine would produce. This data set consisted of 342 images from my newly updated Explore Page. After completing this process once, the GAN images began to resemble real-life objects, scenes or places(such as Utah) from a glance. After the second process, the GAN images started to look more abstract. The more I uploaded these GAN images to my Instagram account and used my account to interact with these images, the more natural-looking the content on my Explore Page became.
My Instagram Engagement
This live application is visually representing my personal Instagram engagement through colour. This process combines machine learning and coding as I analysed the dominant colours from GAN images trained on the content I engaged with on Instagram. I used creative coding software Processing to create a script that organically reads and runs through the colour data from 250 of these GAN images off of a CSV file. Using game engine platform Unity, I imagined this piece as a live large-scaled projection. The purpose of this realisation is visually representing my Instagram engagement and allowing participants to experience the colour palettes I engage with on Instagram. This live application simulates scrolling through an Instagram feed. James Turrell’s large-scaled projections have inspired my design choices for this workflow. Turrell is known for his immersive installations that engaged viewers with the limits of human perception. I feel that through the brightly coloured rooms, these experiences become about how we experience the art.
Instagram is a complex social space where users copy content and curate artificial feeds. People want to be liked and are influenced by content posted by celebrities, influencers or friends. Everyone is copying one another and engaging with one another hoping to be noticed.
These GAN images are outputs from a machine learning model that was trained on content that I have liked or engaged with on Instagram. These artificial images that the machine produced are reflective of my personal Instagram experience.
This was created on machine learning software Runway ML, using the Image Train GAN option – the dataset consisted of 348 images from the latest 150 posts I liked on Instagram. From these GAN visuals, we can see that the posts I frequently engage with on Instagram are colourful and vibrant. I found it fantastical how life-like these outputs were.