Have you ever stopped to think on how much social media is affecting your day-to-day life? Or how it has influenced the way you interact with others and your consumer choices? And what about the way you are projecting yourself to the world through the posts and photos you upload online?

Tom van Malderen, Fake Brittle RealityTom van Malderen, Fake Brittle Reality

Five artists have reflected deeply on the subject and are presenting their personal perspectives in an exhibition now open at the historic Casino Notabile in Saqqajja Hill, Rabat.

Hackable Animals is named after a phrase coined by Israeli contemporary historian Yuval Noah Harari, who has written profusely on how governments and corporations are using new technologies, not only to try to influence us but to amass data about our online behaviour, as well as biodata to predict and manipulate our behaviour.

Isn’t that worrying?

“Online commercial and propagandist techniques and influencing campaigns are becoming ever more ubiquitous – social media companies are consistently resisting any external control on their content – indeed the tension between freedom of speech is constant and seemingly unsolvable,” exhibition curator Margerita Pulè says.

The way we ‘curate’ our own profiles and project our own image does not truly reflect our realities

“We appear to be entering a world where our thoughts and actions are controlled by algorithms and artificial intelligence, without giving much thought to how this will change our lives,” she adds.

Elisa von Brockdorff, Having a Wonderful Time in VeniceElisa von Brockdorff, Having a Wonderful Time in Venice

Ms Pulè also believes that the way we “curate” our own profiles and project our own image does not truly reflect our realities but, “rather, a selected view of events in our lives”. Therefore, she argues that how we see others is not a realistic view of their lives but only of those things which they wish us to see.

The artists contributing to this exhibition are Ryan Falzon, Charlene Galea, Letta Shtohyrn, Tom Van Malderen and Elisa von Brockdorff. Ms Pulè describes them as being young and tech-savvy but mature enough to reflect critically on the dilemmas they and their peers face in managing their online and offline lives.

“Their work looks outwards to confront our online lives but also looks inwards at their own online behaviour and idiosyncrasies,” the curator notes.

In fact, Mr Falzon, a painter and printmaker based between Malta and Berlin, studied his own personal Instagram feed for 12 days for his installation.

His feed, profiles visited and any chats exchanged were documented methodically through screen shots and sketches, which served as a departure point for the subsequent “physical manipulations”.

Since the artist used his personal account for this project, a number of art institutions, accounts and artists were featured in his feed.

“This raises questions about online realities – would it be considered cheating if the artist deliberately followed an art-related account to acquire particular imagery for his documented feed?,” Ms Pulè ponders.

“Would that be a reflection of current approaches to social media, where everything and everyone feels within reach? Or should he remain strictly true to his private, personal Instagram account?”

Meanwhile, multimedia conceptual artist Galea shows her concern with how women expose themselves in the selfie era.

She worked with 12 very different characters and observed how they were active creators of their online image.

In Personification Self-Love, Ms Galea displays their bodies on kitsch merchandise, such as mugs, calendars and towels, as if they were products.

“The difference is that these bodies are not just narcissistic, passive objects but belong to women who have control over how they are portrayed,” Ms Pulè points out.

Malta-based Ukrainian artist Shtohryn, who works mainly with media art, sculpture, textile and intervention, scrutinises algorithms, which, in her opinion, simplify our complex selves to words. When analysed by different algorithms, they may indicate our mental state, our concerns and our political preferences.

Her installation, titled What’s the Word for the Sound of Infinite Scrolling?, features the artist’s data portrait since January 2018, in an attempt to freeze it in time.

Fellow Malta-based artist Mr Van Malderen, whose work varies from buildings to objects, installations and exhibition design, here reflects on our achievement-focused society, which is overloaded with information.

“While our new means of communication are remarkable, his work points to the fact that we constantly face noise, fragmentation and little time for contemplation,” Ms Pulè says.

Charlene Galea, Personification Self-Love (detail)Charlene Galea, Personification Self-Love (detail)

Fake Brittle Reality tackles selfies; Ritual 3 and Ritual 4 exposes the problematic relationship between our real and online lives; while Information Committee questions the relevance of seemingly valuable words when used on the internet but which may look bizarre or absurd when taken out of context.

Last but not least, local visual artist and freelance photographer Elisa Von Brockdorff delves into the world of gossip, which is constantly fed by social media posts.

Through her text-based work, she explores mundane conversations, which inevitably include assumptions and judgements about others, often based on photos and words in other people’s profiles.

“Some observations could actually be a reflection of reality, but generally the mere need to discuss one’s interpretations and projects could say more about the person talking about it than the individuals being discussed,” Ms Pulè says.

Hackable Animals is on display at Casino Notabile in Rabat until November 28. Opening hours are from 5 to 8pm.

Letta Shtohryn, What’s the Word for the Sound of Infinite scrolling? (detail)Letta Shtohryn, What’s the Word for the Sound of Infinite scrolling? (detail)

Tom van Malderen, Information Committee (detail)Tom van Malderen, Information Committee (detail)

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