“Quality Content” comments on internet culture

Soren Iverson’s senior art gallery sends memes into reality.


Tim Seeberger/THE CHIMES

Tim Seeberger, Writer

In a time where culture moves at blinding speed, the term “relevancy” now holds a vague and elusive meaning. In senior art major Soren Iverson’s senior thesis art gallery display, he used a progressive iconography to display the current nature of the internet: memes. This unusual form of visual media encapsulate so many parts of modern current culture. This idea became prominent enough in Iverson’s mind to bring some of the most iconic memes to life to show the breakneck speed of the internet and its ramifications.

I spoke with Soren before the opening of his gallery to discuss his thoughts, feelings and mindset about the undertaking.

How did you come up with the idea to use memes as an iconography?

“I had a friend who I was talking with last fall and I was tired of making art that was really emotional and personal and I jokingly said, ‘What if I made art about memes?’ and she said, ‘Do it,’ and then I said, ‘Challenge accepted.’”

Are you focusing on memes with their face value or the culture surrounding it?

“So initially, it was about memes and now it’s more about internet culture and the virality of content and how nothing on the internet really lasts.”

Where did that shift come from?

“I think that shift came from the fact that meme culture is such a small subset of people, and while that is a really important thing and I think it can be understood by a broader population, more people are going to understand something like the events surrounding Harambe’s death or Kanye and his Twitter.”

What’s it like displaying memes as an art form? How did you come to that?

“It’s different because you’re basically taking pre-existing content and turning it into something else, but I think it’s more rewarding because it forces people to think more critically about things that they would otherwise be swiping by.”

I’m really curious, what is it like displaying memes as an art form in a Christian setting where the meaning of certain memes could come off as offensive to people?

“So I think in handling that, I think of my work more of how it would be perceived in the contemporary art world rather than just in Biola because I want to behave in a professional way, and I think when you put the label ‘art’ on something, it automatically has more context and meaning to it, so it’s not that it’s necessarily offensive, it’s just content that has to be broken apart and talked about.”

Getting to the logistics of the show, how did you go about choosing the memes to put in?

“So at first, it was when the ‘dat boi’ meme was at its peak and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll make something out of that.’ Ever since then, I’ll run into something on the internet and if I hear other people talk about it and I have enough people that I think, ‘Oh, this can be interesting to make something about,’ I’ll make something about it. Also, there are so many tidbits of data or info that come out of the internet, that it’s little pieces that I can put throughout stuff.”

So you were making them and choosing them as you went?

“Yeah, it’s a very organic process, I think. The internet, too — you don’t know what’s going to be viral tomorrow. It could be a blue flamingo that’s twerking, I don’t know. So that’ll spike, get really popular and fade out. And so once something’s kind of faded out, I try to immortalize by making it into this huge thing.”

So they’re kind of like a shrine in a way?

“Yeah! So the Harambe piece is what I’m legitimately referring to as a shrine, and a couple of other pieces are evolving into bigger, more shrine-like pieces.”

Were you ever worried at any point in time that these memes that you were choosing were going to become either “stale” or become “normie” memes?

“I think everything’s valuable. At this point, Harambe is history. It’s not even like it’s a meme anymore. Memes come back too. Like, Dat Boi resurged. There was an article about how he’s making a resurgence on Reddit on the 21st. That [meme] was a year ago. So I think to say something’s a ‘normie’ meme is to try and put finality on a meme’s death when Bad Luck Brian might come back. That’s the beautiful thing about the internet. You never know where the culture is going to take you, so it’s a ride that I’m along for.”

Are you worried some people will not understand certain memes?

“I think that’s actually a great part of it because I’ve had critiques where people were like ‘I don’t get this” and other people in the critique go, “Ooh, it’s this!’ Everyone’s experience of the internet is, by nature, different. No one’s experience is the same. But when you put something in a shared context like an art gallery, if someone doesn’t get something, they’re either not going to be invested enough to ask or they’ll be like, ‘What does this mean?’ And they’re eventually going to figure it out.”

With using memes as art, art you trying to paint the pieces in a more serious light or were you just trying to have fun with it?

“So I think it started out as me having fun with it, and I remember last fall, I was like, ‘I don’t want to make political art.’ I’m not making political art as in left or right, but political as in social commentary and I started to realize that a lot of meme humor is pretty self-destructive. Just by the nature of taking that and making it a huge piece, it becomes a more critical stance, like ‘maybe this isn’t the best thing’ and also the visual style that I’m using paints it in more of like a negative light or I didn’t care or have enough time to make it into something beautiful.”

Could “Quality Content” be viewed as a social commentary?

“I think it’s an ironic statement because to say something is quality content IRL would be saying, “Oh, that’s a really good thing that you’ve created,’ whereas on a message board on Reddit, someone posts a meme and everybody says ‘That’s quality content.’ So taking that original phrase and taking it out of its context and putting it somewhere else turns it on its head.”

Last question: What is your favorite meme right now?

“Oh gosh, there’s so many categories. Recently, they took the picture of Cat in the Hat running and then gave it a baseball bat and then there was a meme that was like, ‘Scientists found new crater on Mars and it’s just an outline of the Cat in the Hat and I’m like, ‘This is incredible.’”

Soren Iverson’s “Quality Content” is on display until Thursday, April 6 at the Virginia Green Art Gallery on campus.

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