Rage Against The Machine

In her latest show, Post Truth, Tammy David examines Instagram in the age of fake news.

by Jonty Cruz, photo by West Gallery

Tammy David thinks this is all a little too much. She’s worried that her upcoming show is just pure navel-gazing, that people will look at it and think it’s an exercise in self-indulgement. She refers to herself as a “curator of internet behavior” but these days all she’s concerned with is putting on a good show. “Hiyang hiya na ako kay Soler [Santos],” one of the country’s top artists and owner of West Gallery where her show, Post Truth will run starting March 23. It’s a show that tackles everyone’s favorite pasttime: Instagram. And Tammy aims not to critique but to reflect and, at the very least, entertain. So days before her show, we sat down with the photographer turned social media strategist turned West Gallery exhibitor about the anxieties of art, internet culture, and unknowingly coming full-circle.

Tell us about your upcoming show.

I don’t know where to start. I’m really bad at doing this. ‘Cause the past few art shows that I had— which are not a lot— somebody helped or somebody else always did the text. I’ve never had an art work na ako lang— that I thought of myself. It was always Erwin Romulo who would help me realize my ideas.

So how’d this exhibit come about? Why Instagram?

I was shooting Miss Universe and then what I was planning to do for this show was a continuation of my beauty pageants. The thing is, I was shooting for a brand so I couldn’t shoot personal. And besides when I really tried to do it, it just wasn’t there and I wasn’t— parang I felt like I was done with photography. My pictures looked like shit. It felt pilit. And then sabi ko, “I’m really”—ay sabi ko, “I wonder what happened a few years ago, a decade ago.” Because I had self-belief. Now maybe it’s working for galleries and being in the art scene and hearing all kinds of feedback from collectors, from press, from the galleries. They would talk about shows. They’re very critical now and so—

You got insecure?

I got insecure. Or I got tired.

Of art?

No. More like, now that you’re aware of how people are critical of shows, so I became critical of myself din. Unlike before, ten years ago, I thought I was the shit. I thought I was like, “The Last Great Hope of Photo Journalism.” And as you grow older, you’re like, “Wow, it’s so easy to get hyped in Manila.”

Never believe your own hype.

Yeah, like, you know, the last show that I had in a gallery—I don’t remember na nga when eh. Basta I was like supposed to do self portraits. But this is before selfies. It was 2010. That was the year Instagram happened. So selfie wasn’t even accepted by Oxford yet. It wasn’t a thing. So it was easy. People called me brave. The next Cindy Sherman whatever. Nice ‘di ba? And then I was supposed to do that again pero iba na eh, how people see pictures. So, two months ago, around Miss Universe, sabi ko, “Ayoko na! Magbaback-out na ‘ko, shet.” Sabi ko, alam mo kung bakit ‘di na ‘ko nagpangarap magshow? Kasi bakit pa? Ang gastos pa. Buti pa ‘yung Instagram, mas marami pang nakakakita. And then Erwin was like, “’Yan ang show mo!” I’m like, “Ha?” “Gawin mong show ‘yan!” So, yeah, my show is about that and all the while, parang what kind of an asshole would use her Instagram as her show!

But in some ways it works. You can see it as a direct succession. Yung last show mo in 2010 was all about self-portraits before Instagram and seflies. And now it’s sort of about Instagram or even post-Instagram.

Yeah, when I think about it parang—the funny part is Instagram—I was one of the first who joined—wow, early adapter—no. I mean, I remember I followed the photo blogs and they said na,”Oh, there’s a new social media platform.” It was Instagram. I remember I joined that year. And then at that time, it was really like Twitter for people who don’t read. So I really used it as a communication tool—like a diary. Like an extension of my Tumblr. It wasn’t—Instagram wasn’t—

It’s own thing.

It’s own thing, yeah. It wasn’t what– how people use it today—like their extension of their portfolios, like an extension of their website or their whatever. I remember some of my friends got like free cameras from brands thanks to Instagram. And I was like, “I also want!” and then sabi nila, “Okay, we’ll refer you to the brand manager.” Then the manager saw my Instagram. It was like, there was no filter. It was a lot of Tom Hardy photos. It was basically me treating it like my live journal or my Tumblr. They said, “Ah, parang she’s not the influencer that we want.” And that’s when I realized, fuck that. You know what? I can just buy my own camera and I’d rather use my Instagram the way I wanted to. And if people are gonna be annoyed, they’re not—they’re usually not my friends.

So isn’t it sort of surreal now to think that your Instagram posts that brands didn’t find “worthy” are now being used for your exhibit?

True. I think, like, art—I don’t know. Siguro, like, good art—wow, ang taas naman ng tingin ko sa sarili but like, I notice people are tired of the same—you have this visual aesthetic for your feed. There’s a checklist of how to capture the “perfect” shot to post. Or like now when you go to a place, you have to photograph yourself na nakatalikod. You have to photograph yourself like skipping, hopping, para sa “influencer checklist.”

Which begs the question of what you yourself post?

Me naman like—you know, whenever I post it’s like I have somebody in mind, yung mga gusto kong kausap. And I realize that, the feedback that I get from friends and other people is they value my authenticity? They make it seem like it’s something admirable and I’m like, “Aren’t we all supposed to be true to ourselves?” Like, you know, if you had Andoks that night and it made you happy, why not post it? And I see people they really break down trying to think of a caption. The hardest thing is making a funny hashtag and if people have a hard time putting a caption then ‘wag na! ‘Wag mo nang lagay.

Okay so back to your show!

Sino ba ‘ko para bigyan ng show? I mean I’m not Jigger Cruz. I’m not Martha Atienza, you know? I was just some social media person of another gallery and you know, I do some raket. And then you’re given a show, parang wow. And siguro working for a gallery, being immersed in the art world, you see how people work hard. Pinag-iisipan nila ‘yung show, their workflow, their creative process, and then there’s me, who’s like having a meltdown at Single Origin.
I didn’t wanna fuck up. I don’t wanna fuck up. And this is only my second time to have a show that’s not a group show. So, syempre me being I don’t know—I was thinking na of people like, what they would say. You know, they would beso, sign the guest book, and when they leave, “Oh my god that was a horrible show. Don’t you think?” Navel-gazing and all. That’s what I’m worried about.

Your show is clearly referencing Instagram but how else would you describe your show?

I guess to describe it siguro pag may anak si Poklong Anading at tsaka si MM Yu na obnoxious at baduy. [Laughs]

Would you say it’s satirical?

Well… Okay as an example, I remember doing shit like—I remember going to the NAIA 2 lounge—and I just kept taking a lot of photos of the Arroz Caldo. And then I’m like, “If you wanna tell people you’re rich, gotta post this, right?” I enjoy shit like that. Kasi sometimes those are the interesting things to point out or like observe. Siguro the show is about using Instagram the way I wish everyone used it.
I remember my former bosses and other people in art telling me, “You know, your art is your message to the world.” So they would always—sometimes they would always judge, like, shows based on technique, based on message. So siguro let’s say my message is like, “Sana we all post like how we really feel.”

Looking at your posts, you’re very direct. And I’ve always been curious about how artists conceive of their art and their message. So did you come up with that message before or after thinking of your show? I mean ‘yung mga ibang artists they find the message as they create it. For you parang, ito ‘yung message ko, how do I execute that message?

Actually. Siguro. That’s how I work. Yeah, I guess. I mean siguro hindi ako masyadong articulate eh that way or hindi ako masyado—like my work process has always been like that. Like, I always work with a theme. That’s how I am. Because maybe I’m not as articulate as I want to be or something. So I just limit myself to theme and think of different ways to execute.

Would you say your feed is a clear representation of yourself?

I don’t know. The past year I worked as a social media strategist … siyempre, you think of content, big ideas, etc. for companies. And siguro the way I act with Instagram is like the anti to what I do as a day job.

Yeah because that’s clearly planned and at worst, super manufactured.

Yeah, filtered, there’s a prop stylist, I really think of quotes that will sound good. Yeah, manufactured.

Do you think social media has affected or even dictated how we live life?

Yeah. I have people choosing places to vacation na maganda sa feed. Alam mo iyun? You don’t hear people that go to a certain destination that is not visually appealing. [laughs] Now it’s all about “Let’s go to Cuba!” Or Iceland!

So what do you hate most about Instagram?
What do I hate most? I don’t know, I love Instagram. What I hate the most is it became a sort of anxiety for people. It’s not supposed to be like that! It’s supposed to be fun, diba? Don’t weep over it. Don’t make it like something na nakakasira ng buhay, diba? That’s how I see it. Kasi like I noticed for some people, it became something like… they get their fix there eh. So they have to post their face, they even have to hire people to take their pictures. Parang, don’t use it as your only source of life or your only source of affirmation. Don’t use it to deceive people. [laughs] Fake news!

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Post Truth runs from March 23 to April 15, 2017 at West Gallery, 48 West Avenue
Quezon City, Philippines