The selfie and the woven tapestry are just about as disparate as two media can get. While the former is snapped quickly and effortlessly to join a stream of endless images, the latter is created through a painstaking process that beckons a more thoughtful viewing than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Erin M. Riley subverts our image consumption habits — and the hierarchy of types of images in general — with her hand-woven tapestries, which she bases on selfies of anonymous women found on the internet. Riley culls her source imagery from social media, taking throwaway, low-res photos and cementing them into handmade, physical objects with a much longer lifespan. The artist will present her latest body of work, “Something Precious,” at Soze Gallery in Los Angeles in February 21.
“Something Precious” raises many interesting questions about the ways we communicate in the digital age as well as the ethics of ownership and image sharing, especially when it comes to other people’s intimate photos. While the women whose photos Riley references posted them of their own accord (she even uses some of her own selfies as subject matter), it’s somewhat creepy to think that something they thought would be looked at for only a short amount of time has now been transformed into a physical object that will hang in a gallery and eventually in someone’s home. While what Riley is doing is quite different that someone posting another person’s nudes without their consent, she is still lifting other people’s digital footprints and utilizing them for her own ends. As a result, her subjects lose control of the way they present their own image and for whom.
Riley’s work is full of taboos. Her previous tapestries have involved drugs and weapons, also based on amateur photos found online. But aside from the subject matter itself, the most provocative part of her work is the way it illuminates how an image posted on the web can quickly spin out of the author’s control. What they say is true: Nothing posted on the internet ever really disappears.