FLJ: This is from a project called Consuming Cute. Can you tell what this is?
JE: The Taj Mahal.
FLJ: You cheated though!
JE: No, I mean that’s obvious.
FLJ: For a while now, I’ve been working on a series of projects looking at UNESCO’s World Heritage List (WHL). The projects have experimented with different forms of preservation, and investigated how value is produced and perpetuated by an institution like UNESCO.
This project, Consuming Cute, takes a little departure from those projects. It’s interested in how images of the WHL sites circulate through social media, and what this says about the sites, and in turn about social media. For this project, I’ve taken sites out of the UNESCO evaluation system, one that is based on notions of universal value, and saturated with myths about our collective world heritage, and inserted them into the world of instagram, social media, selfies and likes, which is itself another value generating system, with its own specific genres, codes, conventions, and influential protagonists.
»I was interested in how images of the UNESCO sites circulate through social media, which ones generate greater traction – more likes and regrams – and whether there was a logic to this that I could manipulate.«
As you can probably guess, the type of UNESCO image that generates the most likes isn’t even exclusively a photo of the site, it’s a selfie of the author at the site. So the question became, what would a UNESCO site look like if it were distorted by the codes of instagram, if it came under the stewardship of digital culture. In working towards a logic, and looking at what’s hot on instagram, I noticed that the only hashtag in the top 5 most popular hashtags on instagram with any aesthetic claim was #cute.
This was great, because I’ve been interested in cuteness for a while, and in trying to understand what I perceive as a widespread deployment of cuteness in all forms of cultural production and consumer culture—we all know that babies and cats are cute, but why are cars cute, phones cute, subway ads for mattresses by Casper or health insurance by Oscar (sorry New York references) cute, or why is so much of recent architecture so cute? These threads came together: UNESCO, circulation, value, and a pervasive contemporary aesthetic.
»[…] we all know that babies and cats are cute, but why are cars cute, phones cute, subway ads for mattresses by Casper or health insurance by Oscar (sorry New York references) cute, or why is so much of recent architecture so cute?«
It was about understanding and redeploying this aesthetic on the WHL sites. Cuteness has clearly been understood and put into operation by consumer brands, so it made sense to launch a line of consumer products.
If you go to www.consumingcute.com you can order this line of luxury products. They are online. You can buy them. It is a strange project because the digital design predated the physical objects. The images, which were produced to look like product shots, ready to go viral on social media, have produced a desire. People have actually tried to buy them, and so now I have to figure out how to make them.
JE: How big is one of these? For example, the Taj Mahal?
FLJ: This is part of what you buy as the first customer, the research and development phase to take it from an image into a physical form.