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Selfies. You may sneer as you read the word, but the truth is you’ve probably taken selfies almost as often as you’ve decried their very existence. But is there more to taking your own picture over and over and over again than narcissism and vanity? Is it a privilege to take (or see) a selfie? Who’s the audience? Can taking and posting a selfie be a political act?

These are the sorts of questions currently swirling through Leslie Vigeant’s mind. Vigeant, a Portland artist whose show at Soltesz Fine Art explores the often-unrealistic beauty expectations women face, is preparing to host what she’s calling “an indoor picnic where critical inquiry is the main course”—a chance for her to open up those questions about selfie culture to the public.

We sat down with Vigeant to talk salad, the trompe l’oeil effect of social media, and her complicated feelings about selfies. 

First, can you tell me more about your current show?

I was thinking about the trompe l’oeil effect of social media and the idea of the façade. [In this show] I have oil paintings that look like neon lights. There’s this big print that looks like a landscape, but when you get up close there are all these abrupt lines where you can see that it’s a really bluntly digital collage/faux landscape thing. There are these lights that look like grow lights, but they’re not giving off heat. There’s all this hair that looks like human hair but it’s actually synthetic. And then there’s this huge array of plants, and most of them are real, but some of them are fake. I wanted to have this real give-and-go between what you assume when you see something, and the reality when you actually look at it. And there’s a lot of AstroTurf, which looks like grass but isn’t. And some of it is scented, which is ridiculous. It’s kind of piney—I think it’s going for the fresh-cut scent.

On to this picnic—why salad?

I really wanted to have huge bowls of salad. Cash & Carry has these huge stainless steel bowls, and for months I’ve been like, what can I do with these bowls? A lot of the show is about the pressures society places on women, so I was thinking about body issues, and salad, and how you’re supposed to eat salad when you’re dieting. But how much salad is too much salad? How much is a disgusting amount? So I’m going to have huge bowls of salad with people eating communally out of them. Mixed greens, I think, with olive oil and vinegar.

How do you hope the conversation plays out?

The mode in which this conversation is happening is based off a long-table discussion. It’s a feminist format—it’s very diplomatic, everybody’s even. If you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to talk. If you want to talk, you can talk. I’m going to use the AstroTurf as the table and set it up as a picnic. Everyone will get a fork, a pen, a cocktail napkin, and the guidelines for engagement. I’m going to take floral blankets, picnic-style, and place them around the AstroTurf and ask people to sit with me. I don’t have any answers! I think it’s fun to be sexy but I also think it can objectify you. I definitely am rolling around in all of that.

I don’t want this to be a hatefest. We’ve all had that conversation a billion times with our friends. What are the positive parts of this culture, and how can we be using it? 

What’s your own take on selfies?

I feel totally split about them. I think they can be great and body-positive, and they can be great for artists and self-promotion. And I do think they can be political tools—a lot of artists use them that way, especially some young female artists. I read this Huffington Post article that mentioned the "art hoe" movement: “The crusade implores young women of color and other marginalized individuals to take control of their image, shift paradigms, and define blackness on their own terms—via the selfie.”

It’s a total double-edged sword. I’ve definitely had the experience where I see selfies and they make me hate myself, but then I’ve also had the experience where I see one and it’s like, yeah girl, you get it! 

Do you take or post selfies? 

I do. Not that often. But I’m not going to say I haven’t. What’s the difference between someone else taking a picture of you and you posting it? 

"Salad, the Selfie, and the Self" is at Soltesz Fine Art at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 13.

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