Susan Sontag wrote nearly half a century ago: “The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and second because the project is finally self-devouring.” This insight takes on new significance in the age of social media, where nearly infinite numbers of too-perfect, highly curated images are served up to friends and strangers on channels that are little more than paid marketing platforms, inspiring the same kinds of emotions that Sontag describes. A key difference between today’s social media markets and the consumer capitalist markets that Sontag critiqued in the 1970s are the impact that these constantly circulating images have on mental health: whereas Sontag argued that photography in particular and imagery in general were necessary in midcentury consumer capitalism to both “stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex,” we know from research that increased social media use is linked to depression, anxiety, and other poor mental health outcomes. As we consume endless images, our lives and our mental health is being consumed.
This project juxtaposes mundane, happy, even cliched images - a woman relaxing on a couch, for example - with images of Goya’s fourteen black paintings. By placing violent images like Saturn Devouring his Son and The Drowning Dog on pillows and in dialogue with a more banal image depicting everyday comfort, this work asks the viewer to consider their own struggles in a (social) mediatized world where everyone seems happy and at ease, secure in their siloed echo chambers. Do these images - which reflect the suffering of war, society, and the artist himself - lose meaning when they are made into consumer objects on commercial art websites and can be bought by the dozen with a few clicks online? Is it a uniquely human trait to replace representations of suffering with something else, something less painful? And how does the meaning of the Goya’s Black Paintings change when algorithms serve up these products to users in an automated effort to convert them into buyers? Who is being devoured in this context?