In these days of social distance, Instagram has become a primary medium for accessing art. For works intended for walls and galleries, the platform has limitations. Small, square images do not convey the full physical experience. The bottomless scroll dissuades us from spending the time required to see beyond the superficial. We have access to more art than ever, but what we have gained in breadth of scope, we have lost in depth of attention.
What if we thought of Instagram as a medium unto itself, rather than as a conduit through which to access other media? This is what artists Eva Kolcze and Jessica Thalmann have done with their The Time Being project. They’ve used Instagram as a vehicle to document their experiences during the pandemic. Working within the constraints of the platform, they’ve been able to expand its potential as an artistic medium. They use Instagram not simply as a mechanism through which to transmit art, but as an integrated foundation of their work.
Eva Kolcze and Jessica Thalmann, images in The Time Being feed
The Time Being is art in the form of an Instagram account. Set up during the summer, it contains regular posts by the artists and guest contributors including Jennifer Lee, Isabel M. Martínez, Miryam Charles, Laura Grier and Meera Margaret Singh. The collection of images and short videos continues to grow with the steady addition of new posts. There are weekly themes within the stream such as ‘site and destination / spaces not normally visited’ or ‘passageways, alleyways and hallways’.
Working collaboratively, the artists have curated a collection that reflects the eerie tranquility of lockdown. Here are some examples of what they’ve discovered while the frenetic pace of city life has been paused.
House Without a Roof is a short video that captures a window reflection, a fleeting moment visible only from a particular angle. The reflected clouds create the illusion of a different sky behind the glass from the one above the building.
Eva Kolcze, House Without a Roof video
✨? ? (which I read as ‘sparkling sun video’) is a short clip of slow-moving water. Leaves float on the surface and we see down into the water and up into reflected trees, through which the sun glints. The shifting focus of the camera takes us from the trees in the background to a small insect fliting through the air and then back to the surface of the water. It takes a moment to realize that if the trees are the right way up in the reflection, the video itself must be inverted.
Eva Kolcze,✨? ? video
Grass and leaves under a layer of ice is a video that captures a moment when water, over grass, moss and leaves is at the threshold of freezing and thawing. Small bubbles come up from below and travel under the thin ice.
Peeling back the layers. After years of wear and tear, painted storefronts reveal the brick bones underneath. is the text next to a set of photos of similar building corners. We’re shown the parallel patterns of decay next to these various doorways.
Peeling back the layers. After years of wear and tear, painted storefronts reveal the brick bones underneath
These are just a few examples of what you will find on the feed. Would the artists have discovered these poetic moments if not for the pandemic? Perhaps. But I think empty streets, and an elevated sense of vigilance primed the artists to notice more. The images are directly linked to the unique circumstances of our current time.
Images by Isabel M. Martínez, Eva Kolcze and Jessica Thalmann in The Time Being feed
Kolcze and Thalmann leverage the constraints within the platform to their advantage. Instagram is designed for phone camera photos, so they use their phones. It calls for square formats and short videos, so this is what they do. It allows for short text and comments and they make the best use of these to complement the images. They go with the technology rather than against it, and by doing so they are opening new possibilities for others to be inspired by, and to expand upon.
The Time Being provides a compelling example of how Instagram can be used for art. The account does not show little photos of art that exists as a richer experience somewhere else. The account is the art. The pictures, videos and text and the relationships between them is a whole, integrated, online artwork.