All revolution requires artwork. Not simply symbols – unifying, denigrating, obfuscating, whichever – but those that offer interpretation. Washington crossing the Delaware. The Bastille’s fall. Bolívar, bronzed and gloried. All revolutions produce a visualization to signify the import, the impact, the imperiled masses and the leaders in front and events surrounding.
Sometimes, though, the resultant artwork doesn’t come on canvas, or isn’t mid-stride on a pedestal. Sometimes the artwork – the interpretation – doesn’t wait decades to come. Sometimes it’s captured. Sometimes it’s instant.
A new project, “The Entitled & The Everyday: 144 Hours in Kiev,” attempts to encapsulate some of the artwork of the most recent, and still-unfolding, revolution. Compiling some 13,208 Instagram images and drawn from a total of 6,165 people in central Kiev from February 17-22, those behind the project have created a canvas from the most seminal days of the EuroMaidan Revolution. And the results are spectacular.
Between fireballs and foodies, tire-piles and urban hikers, masked policemen and shoe-shoppers – and selfies and selfies and selfies – the final tapestry of photos unveils central Kiev as a hodgepodge of the mundane and the marauding. The full-sized image stands as a testament to 2014 twenty-somethings; save for the scenes of the examples of smoke-masks and baton-whips, the shots could be found in any major urban center from Shanghai to Sao Paolo. Life went on, in the midst of revolution. Windows remained dressed. Instagram remained the same outlet it ever has, raft with inspirational quotes, vapid narcissism, and flitting beauty. As the study’s authors noted, “From this bird’s eye view, we don’t see any obvious reflections of the exceptional events that took place during this period. It seems as though the Revolution never took place. … [L]ooking only at the volume of all shared images, you would not know that a revolution took place.”
But if you peered a bit closer, trends emerged, especially as the revolution moved from premise to peak. Certain metrics make this clearer – say, among tags, or if you examined the predominance of specific latitude-longitude locations.
Moreover, unlike those websites more commonly cited as bequeathing “social media revolutions” – that is, the ones relying mostly on text – those behind the project came to a different conclusion:
Examining images and data we collected, it appears that unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram was not used systematically for communication by protesters, oppositional parties or the government. Our image set is not dominated by a few power users posting disproportional numbers of images.
In a certain way, it seems, Instagram suited EuroMaidan more than the other social networks could. As an amorphous, leader-less push against the Yanukovych claque, EuroMaidan found its best show on Instagram. (Despite the fact that another social network helped spark the entire movement, of course.)
As those helping with the project noted:
[T]he image flow in our dataset reflects a multiplicity of voices, multiplicity of perspectives, which can be diverse, contradictory, and idiosyncratic, thus rendering a single narrative totally imaginary and hypothetical. Sharing photos on Instagram is all about “now,” about affirming the present and the presence. There is no pre-existing structure to the flow of images originating as a collectively authored Ulysses - instead we see a stream of uploads from multiple individual sources. To complicate matters further, this stream contains not only original documentary snapshots but also all other kinds of hybrid images such as smartphone screenshots, images from computer and TV screens, altered and manipulated images, reposted images from other user’s accounts and from mass media.
Of course, Instagram usage is but a subset of a subset – a choice, self-selecting group whose demographics already comprise individuals far likelier to orient toward certain directions and predilections. And the authors of the organization address this reality: “[W]e can assume that many of the people posting on Instagram in Kiev are West oriented and more global in their outlook than some other Ukrainian citizens.” The authors come to this conclusion through the predominance of English-language tags, but other demographic demarcations – age, urban-versus-rural, Internet exposure, etc. – would point in the same direction. Bundled together, it’s little surprise that Instagram users would simultaneously be those more inclined to re-direct Ukraine toward Brussels, rather than the former colonial master in Moscow.
Still, the point of the project wasn’t to discern the revolution’s demographics, but, rather, to examine the revolution – or six days therein – through its instantaneous artwork. Instagram offered a filter that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Seems appropriate.