Reimagining celebrity culture in a digital age: Teiji Hayama

We’re living in a digital age with apps and websites and social media platforms bringing everyone closer together for better or for worse. Admittedly, I am hooked on social media- not all aspects of it- mainly Instagram which I have always had a sort of bizarre love/hate relationship. However, as a tool for discovery, I find it great and this is true of my ability to discover art. For me, art has always been a means of escapism and covid has made me pine for galleries mainly because I miss pretentiously walking around exhibits pretending to know more than I do. 

Teiji Hayama was an artist I found whilst hazily scrolling through Instagram- it was January and I had recently followed Unit London. For those that aren’t acquainted, Unit is a small yet intimate gallery that was founded in 2013 and has since seen a meteoric rise in popularity featuring lots of diverse modern artists including Hayama and also one of my other favourites Helen Beard. 

Hayama’s work is bound up in a fascination with celebrity culture with his interest in the process “by which a celebrity becomes stratospherically famous”. The 20th Century was a time that I feel saw the height of ‘the celebrity’ with the likes of Marylin Monroe, Liz Taylor and Elvis Presley. A time representing all the glamour of a perhaps by-gone age that produces a kind of nostalgic longing to be part of that past. For Hayama, their fame “appears to be a mixture of hard work and meticulous social maintenance”. As a society we find ourselves besotted with the idea of getting a glimpse into the lives of those that can seem so far removed from our own sometimes mundane activities.

Art has always had the ability to intersect different subject matter and I think this has been neatly achieved by Hayama whose work encourages our delight and fascination.  Aptly, entitled ‘FAME’, Hayama’s solo exhibit (that ran from the 16th January to 15th February 2020) gave audiences a glimpse into a fantastical reimagination of Hollywood glamour and fame with works featuring America’s most iconic stars. The Japanese artist who currently lives and works in Switzerland but graduated from CSM College of Art and Design has the distinct ability to depict characters that he presents in “all their twisted, grey-scale glory”. With works that force us to meditate on what it means to interact with the notion of celebrity in a digital age.

 We have never been closer to fame than we are now, with social media giving us unparalleled access into the lives of stars we would in the past have probably only been able to access through magazines and television, and the radio. Many of Hayama’s subjects have been “plucked from the silver screen” and there’s a sort of evident detachment with the gaze of the elongated figures.  Describing this as representing a “kind of purgatorial exhaustion” as though their continued existence in the “digital, retweeted realm after death is a considerably taxing experience”. Beyond his art acting as a sort of visual representation of celebrity culture it also forces us to question how we interact with fame and consider what fame even is in a contemporary setting.

In modern society, fame seems far more fleeting and Hayama notes Warhol’s adage that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” which feels truer now than ever before. Increasingly, we can find more meaning in his work perhaps even more so after such a long period in isolation.

Looking beyond his crafted brush strokes and meticulous eye for details we can look into ourselves. With so much time spent on our mobile phones his work is kind of prophetic, a living representation of “the exhaustion felt by us all as we carefully curate our digital personas”.

Maybe it’s time for that social media detox… 

Teiji Hayama can be found on Instagram



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