“It’s lonely at the top, but I truly enjoy the view.” - Gold framed glasses, money-print dress suits, selfies in the office of a New York skyscraper. Andy Kassier is taking the life of the #richkidsofinstagram to a new level. If he's not somewhere in paradise, watching the sunrise on the car hood of a BMW18, he's probably shirtless, riding a white horse on the beach. Because when it comes to Andy, the sun is always shining. And even when the temperatures are low - he's still sitting on the highest peak… his bare skin wrapped in a fur coat.
But this isn't a feature of the life of a decadent rich kid - Andy Kassier is a fictional character. Andy wants to reflect on his Instagram, the lifestyle of those, who always seem to be where the sun is shining. The ones that live the perfect lives - at least in front of the camera. Sabrina Steinek met Andy Kassier to talk about why these over the top images work so well and how Kassier manages to not spend a dime on any of them.
Scrolling down your Instagram feed, one thing stands out: perfectly staged Selfies including gold frame glasses, lots of status symbols and breathtaking backgrounds of the most beautiful places on earth. Your tagline reads “Success is just a smile away“ and the app recently verified you, which means that you’re basically a real celebrity now. How did you manage to become the “Jetsetter & Part-Time Millionaire“ you’re portraying?
I became rich. Just kidding. Well, it is a job like any other. I did my research, I dedicated myself to this image and this persona and developed its existence in reality as well as in its documentation. Hard work and patience, it sounds cliché, but I truly mean it.
Instagram is a management tool with which we can direct how others see us or are supposed to see us. In your Instagram Stories and interviews, the topic of comparing comes up a lot - how others see you and how you see yourself. That’s quite an interesting aspect, since all of your photos look quite staged. You’re directing the viewers to a very specific image of you. Can you please talk about why and how you like to work with perceived realities?
In all honesty, I don’t think my work is very different than any other artwork in this sense. We can try to portray a particular image to the viewer, but we cannot control their interpretation. My intention will always go hand in hand with the viewer’s take of my intention. I think I created this persona that allows me to question aspects of wealth, gender, consumption, status, but also the medium itself. My work is often so exaggerated that it is obvious that it is not real. But I don’t think that reality exists in social media; it’s a playground.
The way we present ourselves on Social Media has been proven to influence our life. You’re not just pretending to be in all of these nice places and you’re not just pretending to wear all the fancy clothes - you’re actually there and you’re actually wearing that. How is your public life as Andy Kassier – “The Part-Time Millionaire“ - influencing you as a person?
Oh wow, we’re getting personal! Creating a persona always has its consequences. I became very successful in real life — just kidding again! I became very aware of the status symbols we have, the choices we make in spending our money and, in a way, I think it made me more detached from it. I consume less. At the same time, I realized how important it is, as to us all, to know what other people think of me and the importance of being validated. I became slightly more dependent on social media with which I am playing. I mean, these days it seems that people see likes and comments as such strong confirmation and social validation that not getting them is referred to almost as a kind of social death.
The critique of consumerism and materialism is a major aspect in your work. You want to show your viewers — may it be on Instagram or in a real life exhibition space — that it’s possible to have everything without owning anything. Do you think this message gets across on a platform like Instagram? Where does the difference between you and the #richkidsofinstagram lie?
I exhibit in real galleries. Firstly, I am not sure this is exactly my critique. My pictures as a persona stand on their own and if the viewer does not know any better and assumes they are actual representations of “me”, then the whole idea of materialism without ownership does not really function. But to your question, of course the difference simply lies in the fact that my work is conceptual and not a documentation of a true, well maintained lifestyle. I mean the persona Andy Kassier should theoretically be included in the #richkidsofinstagram stream. My work is a reconstruction of and reflection on their lifestyle. It differs only in the fact it is less real. But, like anything in this day and age, nothing is real and we all document fairly staged situations; so maybe there is no difference at all.
If materialism is “old school”, why does your consumerist, glamorous, traveling, Instagram-persona work so damn well?
I think materialism is old school only in the sense that it has changed drastically, but being old school doesn’t mean it's obsolete or gone. Our global society did not give up values of social climbing and consumption. It did not break free from notions of work, of pay, of classes. As a matter of fact, politically, we see a stronger capitalistic liberal approach, so powerful, that it allows only a few to enjoy its fruits. The glam-lifestyle works because we all desire it.
Most of the comments you get on Instagram are quite funny. Sarcasm plays a big role in your work and a majority of the people who comment generally seem to ‘get it’. Are you being confronted with negative feedback as well? How do you deal with the haters?
I actually love it. I love negative feedback because it is a form of affirmation that the work is functioning, that it passes as entirely real.
You like to use polished ad-aesthetics. More recently though, being authentic and vulnerable is becoming trendy. Do you think that photoshopped perfection will ever get out of fashion? If so, how are you going to adapt? Will we ever see a #iwokeuplikethis #nofilter picture of Andy Kassier?
There is no real authentic. This trend is no less photoshopped and no less associated with ads. We will never get to see authenticity in social media. It is a pure oxymoron.
The big cars, the boat, the yacht - you don’t actually own any of these things. You borrow them without spending a dime. How important are your friends and network for your work?
I remember that even Paul Ryan acknowledged that an individual cannot exist without a community. Network is everything. You give and care and you get so much back. I value my friends in that immensely and I really am so lucky to have them.
Traveling is an essential component in your work. Under four eyes: are you really going to all of these places or are you using digital montage as well?
I have been to every location. My work is not about portraying something entirely false, everything shown is real, it’s the question of circumstances and persona that are perhaps misleading, but not the actual scenery.
How do you decide where to travel to next? Are there any criteria by which you chose your destinations?
Not really, I love to travel and I go with my gut.
Self-marketing plays a big role in today's society. We’re using Social Media as a means to distance ourselves from whatever we believe is undesirable and are constantly trying to stand out. It’s no surprise that people on Instagram put their focus on money and travels to enhance their prestige. Is that why traveling plays such a huge role in your works?
Yes. I mean, obviously yes, traveling is the ultimate status symbol, now more affordable than before, but still not attainable for everyone. Honestly, I hate wintertime in Europe and I try to escape every year to warmth. I am genetically part bird.
These days, time is a luxury and being able to travel is a privilege. To what extend does that conflict with the message you’re trying to convey?
Why should it conflict? This is exactly my point. I portray through my persona: a person that has every social and financial privilege.
Interview by Sabrina Steinek