Do you ever think about the parts of ourselves that we give up to the world via the internet? The late-night musings we post on Twitter, the precious time we spend scrolling, the snapshots of our faces, bodies, bedrooms, life on Instagram.
Do you ever think about what other people – on your timeline, newsfeed, account – do with those parts of you? Do they take screenshots and send to their friends? Do they get the familiar pang of guilt or jealousy when observing the better-presented version of ourselves? Do they just roll their eyes? Or do they report it?
Artists Molly Soda and Arvida Byström, whose practices are so intrinsically linked with online sharing, are curious about the afterlife of what we post on the internet. What started – aptly – as a conversation on social media, has resulted in their first printed collaboration, Pics or It Didn’t Happen: Images Banned from Instagram, published by Prestel Publishing. In September 2015, Arvida posted on Twitter: “Can we make a ceremony for all the banned IG posts”, to which Molly replied: “We should make a book.”
"I've been following Arvida online for years," Molly told Refinery29. "After we started working on this book together I forgot that we hadn't actually met IRL before!" Both are known for their pastel pink and holographic aesthetics, and for their honest and open posts surrounding female bodies, mental health and sexuality. "I think Arvida has a really good eye for creating beautiful images (which is definitely not my strength, I'd say I'm super-sloppy) but beyond that, she's always throwing a bit of confusion into the mix – something is always sort of 'off', which I love."
The new book observes Instagram’s Community Guidelines and explores the tension between creatives and the social media platform that at once encourages and censors their art. So when both artists have such influence on Instagram – a combined following of 228,000 – why did they decide to use printed media to canonise these digital images? “Taking the time to compile, edit, and physically print these 'lost' images gives them more attention, letting them take up space and carry weight”, they say.
They put a call out to their followers and fellow artists to send in images that have been taken down by Instagram, and the result is a gorgeous hardback full of naked bodies, mirror selfies and blood-stained bedsheets. All genders are present but the majority of the images feature women: in bathtubs, in bed, glimpses of pubic hair peeking above their knickers. "It was interesting and, honestly, not super-surprising that a lot of the submissions we got were women," Molly points out. "Femme-presenting bodies are immediately more sexualised, thus going to be censored because they are never not in conversation with sex."
However, as the artists acknowledge in the book's introduction, “a common theme among the photographs submitted to us is the type of bodies pictured: primarily white-passing, thin, cisgender. This leads us to wonder: who feels more entitled to post these kinds of images?” Thus while the book does highlight society's issue with women, it also shows that more marginalised groups – transgender, non-binary, people of colour – who face even more censorship on social media, may feel less welcome in, and entitled to, these spaces than white women.
So what's the answer? "The censoring that happens on these big websites (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)... people are doing it. I think a lot of times we forget that and just assume it's some weird robot or higher power removing all of our photos," Molly highlights. "Censorship is obviously crucial to a certain degree and we don't argue against that, but we do have to pay attention to how things are omitted and how that creates and shapes our perceptions of the world around us."
With a foreword by esteemed American writer Chris Kraus, the book encourages you to analyse censorship, entitlement, the limits of democracy on the internet, the question of what offends and, of course, art. Scroll through to see some of the posts banned from Instagram...