For most of us, Instagram is a place to show the world how much cooler and hotter we are now than we were in high school. For Hannah Weiby and Jennifer Koehler, the image-based social media platform is more like the land of artistic opportunity.
Weiby, a senior at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) with a practice that focuses primarily on painting and video; and Koehler, a recent SAIC grad (BFA, ’16) have teamed up create Total Carbohydrates — an Instagram “project space” that exists as a virtual gallery for artists to show pictures and digital work. The gallery opened its digital doors a few months ago but already shows a promising mix of work from artists who are creating new relationships via their involvement.
“We wanted to create a community where emerging artists could find each other,” said Koehler. “Hannah and I curate shows that challenge our selected artists to work in a way they normally would not.”
“We’re interested in the notion of social media as space for exhibiting art,” said Weiby, a senior primarily studying painting and video. “That’s particularly because we’re young, we are currently in art school, and we want to help people connect with each other. We want to support young artists who are focused on making work and getting a leg up.”
Koehler, who currently lives Detroit studying sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art’s graduate program, had the inspiration for “Total Carbs” after hearing a lecture given by artist Brian Belott at the Cranbrook Art Museum.
“Belott discussed the importance of collaboration between artists,” Koehler said. “After the lecture, I reached out to Hannah and we began brainstorming.”
“Total Carbs” isn’t Koehler’s first “Insta-based” project, however; her first, the “Ohsnapgallery,” began while she attended SAIC. Though not her focus these days, the account currently features 6,080 Snapchat screenshots of people from all over the world.
Inside “Total Carbs,” Snapchat art takes on a new twist:Koehler and Weiby create “Snapchat paintings” — digital paintings created through the Snapchat application. The paintbrush tool, text and stickers functions, and filters offer users tools to create works of art. “Foggy mirror” drawings and drawings on receipts are also common art “installations” for “Total Carbs.” The creators hope to see works with sound, video, and more writing in the future.
Sourcing art from friends at SAIC and other schools is part of the “Total Carbs” project.
“We’re doing lot of research and looking around on Instagram,” said Weiby. “There’s an account for SAIC sculpture, so I’ll see who’s posted and then click on the maker’s profile to see if they want to show in the gallery. Jen and I will find art schools around the country and check out what they’re making. But we focus on places that aren’t art centers, necessarily, too. We want to connect people.”
Subverting the traditional gallery system via a social media platform is something that Weiby and Koehler have found to be compelling for young artists who have grown up on the internet.
“[As artists], we’re learning where we’re ‘allowed’ to work,” Weiby said. “There are institutions that are supposed to be supporting us, but I’m not totally sure how transparent any of that is. We want to be the opposite of intimidating, avoid the high culture b.s. We don’t want people to be afraid to ask if they can be involved.”
For those artists wishing to have their name and work virtually installed on the “Total Carbs” page, the creators encourage reaching out via direct message. Though Koehler and Weiby typically pick the themes and announce them on the page, they say they’re open to theme suggestions and other ideas participants may have. There may be room for guest curators in the future, as well.
And about the name, “Total Carbohydrates?”
Weiby smiled. “It’s about celebrating energy and youth but also, we love the bread emoji and Jenny has a wicked gluten allergy.”