I link, therefore I am
Unit London welcomes back Teiji Hayama for his second solo exhibition with the gallery, entitled I link, therefore I am. Developing the themes of his previous exhibition, Fame, the show aims to convey society’s ever-growing obsession with celebrity and digital culture through an enhanced caricatural visual language.
Through portraits of instantaneously recognisable icons such as Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Twiggy, all of whom Hayama describes as “vintage influencers”, the artist explores the process by which a person becomes stratospherically famous, a process the artist himself labels as a “path of no return.” This path has seemed to unfold via a mixture of hard work and meticulous social maintenance. As such, I link, therefore I am uses these iconic images to expose contemporary issues connected to the evolution of various social technologies.
Hayama has long been artistically fixated on these images of famous figures. For him, Marilyn Monroe, as one of the most recognisable cultural symbols of all time, represents the mother of iconic images. Throughout the exhibition, Hayama blends her image with other iconic celebrities, superheroes and, even, familiar cartoon characters. In creating these hybrid caricatures, the artist attempts to visualise the notion of Multiphrenia: the fragmented self. Largely caused by technologies that increase social contact, Multiphrenia is the condition of being simultaneously drawn in multiple and conflicting directions. To demonstrate this, Hayama uses a multi-layered and transformative artistic process, which travels from photograph to photoshop, and, finally, to canvas. Hayama creates his initial portraits of timeless famous figures digitally. He then repaints the resulting image onto a canvas using oils. In this way, Hayama’s process mirrors the concepts of his portraits through methods that oscillate between contemporary digital practices and traditional techniques, contrasting both time and medium. As images on social media become increasingly filtered and flawless Hayama’s techniques have evolved to visualise this trend. In this way, the artist tries to trick his viewers into thinking his works are digitally manipulated, when, in fact, they are simply rendered in oil on canvas.
For the first time, Hayama has started using brand logos in his artworks, which are imprinted like tattoos on the bodies of his painted figures. Here, Hayama stresses the power of mass-produced imagery to draw society’s attention. He indicates how brands capitalise on the notion of celebrity to grow their outreach and how, in turn, celebrities use brands to gain even more exposure, flooding digital platforms with this imagery to attract more followers. In short, Hayama’s portraits do not buy into any idealised image of contemporary society or celebrity culture. As such, his portraits are enhanced by various facial features, usually clown-like upturned lips and tired lackadaisical eyes, that seem almost superimposed. These fatigued expressions convey ideas of social media weariness and hypocrisy, expressing how social media fuels our growing obsession with fame and cultivated lifestyles, becoming a driving force for those who seek out celebrity. Hayama therefore visualises the exhaustion that can emerge from attempts to maintain an idealised digital identity and sustain it at all costs. As these digital identities and our real-world identities become increasingly enmeshed, today’s society seemingly augments the risk of Multiphrenia; these fragmented selves that are pulled in so many directions and spread so thin. In this sense, the exhibitionseeks to outline that we live in a world saturated by technology, an idea that is encapsulated in the title: “I link, therefore I am”, a contemporary play on Descartes’ original phrasing “I think, therefore I am.” The title indicates how the digital seemingly seeps into all aspects of human life and the individual risks becoming lost, dependent on social media for a sense of self, identity and existence.