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At Somerset House, Ai Weiwei's Zodiac heads are beautiful. If only the same could be said for the ve

Stroll into the courtyard of London's Somerset House over the next few weeks and you'll come face-to-face with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals.

The giant bronze heads, which represent the signs of the Chinese zodiac - rabbit, goat, rat, tiger and so on - are arranged in a semi-circle on six- foot poles.The symmetry is pleasing, and there's ample space to walk around each head in deep contemplation (if you want to).

It is a shame, then, that the same cannot be said for the exhibition currently on display inside the venue. Held in London for the first time this year, the Sony World Photography Awards features the winners and runners-up in categories as varied as documentary, sport, portraiture, landscape and fashion, showcasing the theme 'From Chaos into Order'.

And nowhere is chaos more obvious than in the exhibition's confused and cluttered curation. The sheer volume of work requires a vast exhibition space, split over three levels and six rooms.

With no clear route through the exhibits, the visitor's focus is distracted from the photographs and the experience becomes disorienting and, frankly, downright irritating.

Those unfamiliar with the photographers are given little context. Few of the pictures are labelled adequately, with many lacking basic details such as where and when they were taken.

Instead, tablet computers (Sony, of course) display a selection of images by the same photographer and a brief narrative. On the day of my visit, some of these did not appear to be working, and those that were had crowds of people jostling to read their tiny screens.

In another misjudgement, some of the exhibition's most high-profile images - those which had been used on promotional materials - are displayed on television screens (Sony, again). Here, a disproportionate amount of time is given to the photographer's name, while the pictures themselves appear all too briefly.

Also lacking is a sense of cohesion within the exhibits displayed in each individual room: jaunty photos of moustache-shaped pubic hair sit alongside images of victims of sexual assault.

The effect is not simply jarring (as no doubt the curator intended) but it simply doesn't work as a concept. Rather than being though-provoking, the impact of the more serious set of pictures is lost.

It's just all a bit contrived and detracts from the outstanding photographs. The winner of the Open Photographer of the Year Award, Chan Kwok Hung's picture 'Buffalo Race' is perhaps the standout image. Taken in Western Sumatra, it depicts an annual event where local farmers race their livestock, biting their tails to make them run faster.

There are other photos just as stunning, and the sad thing is that youn could easily leave the exhibition without realising who the winners of these awards are, nor have a sense of the hard work and dedication that capturing their photographs entailed.

It's a muddled display. And some of the blame must lie with the heavy sponsorship by Sony. Their name was an intrusive presence - on the tablet computers, TV screens and in an entire room dedicated to advertising the use of Sony cameras.

Corporate benefactors are undoubtedly becoming more common in the arts and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But the balance between the needs of the sponsor and the creative requirements of the exhibition needs to be finely tuned. And sadly, here, this has failed.

The Sony World Photography Awards 2011 are at Somerset House until 22 May.

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.