Dossier 12: The Creator Economy

Inside the early days of the selfie museum

Selfie-museums seem to be everywhere—from Amsterdam’s The Upside Down, the largest interactive Instagram museum in Europe, to the Museum of Ice Cream in New York. But this very special breed of ‘museum’, and its popularity, is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2018 I did my internship at a design studio in Cologne, Germany. A few blocks away from the studio, there was a mysterious bright pink building I passed many times on my way to work before I figured out what it was. At that time I understood that we were in the cultural moment of the rise of influencers—it wasn’t about taking the perfect selfie anymore, but about finding the perfect backdrops (nature, city buildings, colourful walls, romantic cafes) to pose in front of. During that time it became more accessible for people to make their instagrammable content with the rise of these ‘instagram- or selfie museums’. These places are specifically designed to allow visitors to pose in front of a variety of backgrounds for fun pictures, especially selfies, which can be used on social media platforms like Instagram. The ‘Supercandy Pop-Up Museum’ in Cologne—that mysterious bright pink building I passed on my way to work—appeared to be one of the first in Europe. The Philippines, Malaysia, and the US were ahead of the curve, with their selfie museums opening in 2015 and 2016. As my fascination for instagram / selfie culture started to grow, I decided to use this museum as research for my graduation work in the Design Art Technology  department at ArtEZ in Arnhem. I shot a film inside the museum, where I observed the visitors with my camera. The film was unscripted, as I just wanted to portray what it was like inside these kinds of spaces. In 2018 it was so new that it was almost shocking and absurd to see what was going on inside. It felt almost as if you were watching animals inside a zoo. I setup my camera and pretended I wasn’t filming and sometimes I even walked away as if it wasn’t mine. Today you wouldn’t get away with that, since these Instagram museums are ‘safe spaces’ where visitors can take pictures shamelessly. Nowadays I think it’s also more socially accepted that people just shoot their content in public as if no one is watching. For my research I interviewed the founder of the Super Candy Museum, Frank Karch. Surprisingly, he  was very aware of the historical context of selfies and Instagram culture. He said that selfie culture existed long before social media, and mentioned that Van Gogh was one of the first people who made selfies—in this case portraits— of himself. Now that selfie museums are spread worldwide, I suppose it’s  a more well-known phenomenon of our contemporary moment. But looking back, the film (which you can watch down below) is a relevant representation of the emerging Instagram and selfie culture of that time.