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Do It for the Gram: An Interview with Will Bower

15 August 2018 | Emily May

Even though exhibitions may not be made specifically for selfies, there are many which people flock to arguably, not for the art, but just for an Instagram snap. Just think of Martin Creed’s What’s the point of it? at the Hayward Gallery back in 2014, or more recently the swings at Tate Modern. So why not create a museum, or “factory”, completely dedicated to getting that perfect arty Instagram shot? That’s what Will Bower, Managing Director of the Selfie Factory thought after seeing similar businesses booming in the US. We caught up with him ahead of the launch of the UK’s first made for Instagram exhibition in Brighton, and discussed his inspirations, escapism, and how selfies can promote confidence and happiness.

Culture Calling: What gave you the idea for the Selfie Factory? You mention on your website being inspired by a recent trip to Los Angeles…
Will Bower: It’s been brewing for a couple of years. I saw a very similar idea in LA and San Francisco in the US, and I think initially I wrote it off as being a bit crazy. But my fiancé and I went on a road trip across America, and there would be a similar “museum” at every tourist destination we went to, and there’d be a queue of people waiting to have their photos taken. It validated the idea in our minds. When we went to San Francisco we tried getting a ticket to one of these similar businesses, but they were sold out for the entire month! So we thought, ok, we should bring this to the UK. And that’s what we’ve done.

Image Credit: The Selfie Factory
 
CC: Are there any particularly famous made-for-Instagram exhibitions in the US that you were inspired by?
WB: Yeah they’re popping up everywhere now. There’s all sorts of weird ones. I think it started with the Museum of Ice Cream, which is the leading one. But there’s lots of pop-ups surrounding that, such as 29 Rooms, Happy Place… there’s an egg themed one, a wine themed one. It seems like the new craze. In America they’re marketed more as art museums/ exhibitions, but what we’re doing is being quite bold in saying that this is completely for your Instagram. We’re going down more of the “experience” route rather than focusing on art.
 
CC: Can you describe what is contained within the factory? You have over 10 different environments designed to “up your Instagram game?”
WB: Essentially what we’ve done is there’s an art museum in Brighton called the Phoenix, and we’re splitting that into around 10 different rooms, and each of those rooms has an absolute theme, for example we’ve got a turf room with a turf chair, and the walls are completely encased in artificial turf which looks really cool. Similarly, there’s a pink room, a room filled with ball pit balls, it goes on like that really. But as well as the environments there’s also back drops, such as the LA angel wings mural. It’s a mish-mash of all the best Instagram backgrounds you see online, as well as some original ideas.

Image Credit: The Selfie Factory
 
CC: Social media is often seen as a way of escaping reality. Is that what the motivation is behind the selfie factory?
WB: The world– well not recently with the World Cup and the heat wave! – is a very sad place at the moment, what with current politics. It’s very grey and dull and we just wanted to bring some glitter, rainbows and unicorns in, and I guess be an escape from mundane life. It’s very different, like a miniature world we’ve created, which a lot of people enjoy.
 
CC: But social media can also be quite detrimental because of this, making people feel like everyone else has a better, rosier life than them, just because no one posts the bad stuff. It can also promote negative body image. How will you try and avoid the Selfie Factory contributing to the dark side of social media and selfie culture?
WB: That was a big consideration when we first went into this. The word Selfie was created in 2013, I think it was the word of the year. There were all these discussions that were floating around then. There was one side that was the vanity and people sinking into depression. But at the same time, posting a selfie can also be a symbol of confidence, people being happy with themselves and being happy to share that online.

Image Credit: The Selfie Factory
 
CC: Why did you decide to base it in Brighton?
WB: We absolutely love Brighton ourselves and we spend a lot of time there. It’s a place of endless creativity and very happy people. When we were doing our research we found a study, I can’t remember what year it was, but it found that Brighton was officially the happiest city in the UK. So there was no question really.
 
CC: Are you going to take it to any other cities?
WB: We’ve already had a lot of calls to take it to London. I think that’s naturally the next step. This run is basically to prove the concept, the second one could be larger, wackier and crazier, with more money put into it to make all our stupid ideas come true!
 
The Selfie Factory runs for one week only from 23 August at the Phoenix Brighton, 10-14 Waterloo Place, Brighton BN2 9NB.
 
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