How designers Justin Crowe and Aric Snee’s gag product sparked a cultural debate on the selfie stick phenomenon.
When Justin Crowe and Aric Snee made a selfie stick out of a monstrous prosthetic arm, creating the illusion of of holding someones hand in your selfie, they figured the gag product would turn a few heads. But hours after a write up about the Selfie Arm went live on Designboom, CNN was calling, blogs were deeming it the “saddest way to make friends jealous,” and a viral debate about the cultural implications of the selfie stick was underway.
In light of societal obsessions with taking our own pictures, the phenomenon of the celebrity selfie-as-art, as well as recent bans on selfie sticks in museums and public spaces, the Selfie Arm represented more than just a satirical object gone viral. The fiberglass hand was originally just made for the internet, but after all the attention, the designers started selling a limited number as art objects—for $6,200 an arm.
What started as a joke got people talking about the inherent loneliness that is the selfie, that need to hold a stick to take a picture of yourself instead of asking someone close by to be involved, adding to the rift between technology and human contact that seems to become more and more commonplace every day. The debate and press coverage was exactly the kind of impact the designers hope to get with their collaborations: art objects that question the role of technology and technology that questions art.
“Sometimes an object can highlight a feeling about society much more eloquently than words,” says Snee, and this philosophy seems to hold true for their individual projects as well, whether it’s Crowe’s chiseled bust that charges iPhones or Snee’s sleek glass iPhone speaker that doesn’t require any electricity. The Creators Project checked in with the designers of the viral selfie stick to find out more about their process, their projects, and find out just who is buying the infamous Selfie Arm.
The Creators Project: How did you come up with the idea of a Selfie Arm?
Aric Snee: We were amazed and concerned with the selfie phenomenon and wanted to find a way to put it into perspective. In contemporary society, trends and information become part of culture so quickly that often there is not enough time to fully digest them and write about them critically. Sometimes an object can highlight a feeling about society much more eloquently than words, which was the goal of the Selfie Arm.
Have you sold any of the Selfie Arms? Do you see any patterns in the type of people buying them?
We are offering 10 limited edition selfie arms for sale as sculpture objects. We recently sold one to a marketing company in Hong Kong which was featured in a series of advertisements that dealt with selfie culture for Hong Kong's largest electronics store. There are still selfie arms available and we are planning their appearance in some gallery exhibitions, including one this winter in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Did you get any negative feedback? Did people get the joke?
Justin Crowe: There were a lot of people who did not get the joke. This “product” was such an easy target for negative feedback and in a way that is what made it a valuable art piece. When something is created and everyone agrees with it, it doesn’t tend to resonate or challenge any conventions. It is the controversy, or the basic difference of opinion, that created a worldwide dialogue and made the Selfie Arm so popular.
How do you feel about selfie sticks in general? Should people be allowed to use them in museums/ public spaces?
If humans need to see while walking in the dark we invent a handheld light, and if we need a good way to take pictures of ourselves we put a camera on a stick—it all seems like a natural progression. Selfie sticks are essentially the same as a tripod and a timer. It is the job of artists to act as a mirror for society, we were trying to get people to reflect on the selfie stick phenomenon and form an opinion of their own.
Have you ever used the arm in public?
We have used it a couple times in public, once for the photo-shoot where it got lots of strange looks. About a month after it blew up the internet I took it to a thrift store to find a better sleeve for it. When I went to the counter to pay they tried to make me buy the arm from them, thinking I found it on a shelf.
The project went viral pretty fast. How did people react to it?
The reaction was perfect. The original idea was that selfie arm would only exist on the internet and in a way test the viewers to see if they thought it was a sincere product. In the end, I would say that 60 percent of people understood it was a sarcastic commentary on the selfie stick phenomenon and the other 40 percent thought that it was a real product on the market; much of latter group had negative opinions about it. Within 24 hours of it being featured on Designboom, we were being interviewed on CNN. I think the best definition of viral is when something gets passed around on the internet so much that it "jumps" from the internet onto other mediums. That happened with this project.
Justin Crowe’s “Paul: The sexiest smartphone charger on the planet”
How does your work help you grapple with the rapid changes in technology?
Justin: Our work provides an alternate view of common technologies. Aric’s My Phone Amp pairs the iPhone, powerful technology packaged into a little tile, with an analog sound amplification device. Witnessing its visible and understandable function puts in perspective the seemingly magical technology that is inside of our smartphones. In my sculpture Paul: The sexiest smartphone charger on the planet I use the groin area of a torso statue as a phone charging dock. There are layers of innuendos and metaphors pairing sex with technology, questioning their relationship.
Aric: I am reminded of the exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind that was at MOMA several years ago. I agree with the curator of this show in that I think one role of the artist is to adapt to technology but also be critical of it.
Do you tend to be negative or positive about the future of technology?
Positive! We can’t stop it. Lets move forward intelligently and embrace it.