This article was first published on PETRIe Inventory
Earlier this month, Celine Teague presented her latest exhibition ‘I Think Therefore I #’ in the southwest London gallery, Kristin Hjellegjerde. The title of the piece played on the famed phrase coined by French philosopher René Descartes’ - “I think therefore I am”. In essence, the act of thinking proves we exist. In adding the hash tag and removing the ‘am’, Teague explored in her work the trivialities of a digital world in which our polished, filtered and hash-tagged digital concoctions precede us. After touring the exhibition, Teague and I sit down to chat at Putney-based café Brew, and discuss her work, the power of social media and the ‘armchair activist’.
Jamal George-Sharpe How would you describe your aesthetic?
Celine Teague: Deceptively fun because the content underneath it all is quite dark and there’s a lot of thought processes that go on behind my work. Sometimes it takes me personally into a dark place. The colours often mask the contents.
“Social media, the relevance of the hash-tag and the power it has over us, are subjects that I think we should talk about more.”
JG-S: What about the subjects that your pieces explore, such as the rise of social media?
CT: Social media, the relevance of the hash-tag and the power it has over us, are subjects that I think we should talk about more. Social media, and the way we use it, is such a new language at the moment. We are all exploring it. We don’t know where it’s taking us. We don’t know what it is turning us into. It reveals a slightly warped side of us in some ways - very vain but there is a compassionate side too. People are being motivated to change. There’s a lot of armchair activism, which is potentially lazy but also a great force for good. I’m kind of torn between where I stand personally on it. The initial idea of social media and the Internet was to bring the world together. At the moment, I think it does exacerbate our differences often. Yet there is a great potential for the Internet to be a great unifying force.
“We are going from one extreme to the next. I use the analogy of the Daily Mail because it has these two columns that are side-by-side - the horrific news alongside the showbiz. We dip in and out.”
JG-S: Your work, and the duality of the ‘fun’ exterior and the deeper darker message beneath, mimics how we now have our digital self and our physical self. They often don’t mirror each other - one is more perfected and filtered and hash tagged and the other is just reality. I found that interesting whilst I was looking at your work. What would you say about this?
CT: Yes, that’s true - and we have not really explored the space in between. We are going from one extreme to the next. I use the analogy of the Daily Mail because it has these two columns that are side-by-side - the horrific news alongside the showbiz. We dip in and out. This kind of pictorial overload we’re receiving on a daily basis means we’re not going into depth with these stories. We’re just seeing one image there and another there and nothing in between. I’m not surprised that we want to just indulge in the frivolity of filters and all these things because there’s so much dark news.
JG-S: Could it be a form of escapism?
CT: Yeah, I think we’re in a bit of trauma with all of the things we see on the news. We’re taking our phones to bed with us every night and waking up to see horrible news stories. It’s just not healthy. It’s desensitising us. If we continue like this, I’m not sure what it’s going to do to us as a society. That's why I find painting such an interesting medium personally. I can just take stop of a news story, such as the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign, which was the starting point of one of my paintings. This horrific event was very hash-tagged and promoted all over social media, but it has not been resolved. I saw a BBC documentary about it and the news developments get worse. Some stories affect me so much that I want to take the time to think about, and almost honour, these girls in a way before I move on to another story. These are big events - people’s lives. I think we forget that very easily.