It was only four years ago that Argentinian-born artist Amalia Ulman duped followers with her elaborate art project.
More of a performance piece, Ulman chose Instagram as her platform for the “Excellences and Perfections” project, in which she “spun a pastel-pink narrative of herself as an optimistic young woman pursuing her dreams in Los Angeles,” explains CNN.
Apart from those fake free flight offers – and the other nonsense people post every singe day – it’s one of the most successful cons on Instagram:
Things started innocuously enough (“another sunny day in LA aaaaahhhh i lov my life,” reads an early caption), but after she broke up with her boyfriend (“dont be sad because it’s over, smile because it happened”), things took a turn.
She chronicled her post-breakup breakdown — sexy mirror selfies, escorting, implied breast augmentation, tearful videos — and her eventual recovery through yoga, meditation and avocado toast. Amid selfies and inspirational text posts, there were photos of berry bowls and flowers in bloom.
Sounds like every mid-20 something, doesn’t it? People are still doing exactly that.
But five months in, and 90 000 followers later, she revealed it was all a performance, that she had “cast herself as a semi-fictional character based on popular images that certain girls (affluent, young, often white) post of themselves on Instagram”.
Fair enough – but followers weren’t happy that they had been duped:
While the performance would win Ulman acclaim in the art press, it received backlash from followers who had become invested in her character’s narrative and felt they’d been deceived. But that was precisely the point of her project: to unpack the performativity of social media itself.
Her Instagram account is still active, but these days it is full of red, black and pigeons:
She recently exhibited a film at the Armory art fair in New York, and when we spoke in mid-March, she was preparing to fly to Beijing for her first solo show in China. She’s also working on the book about a second online performance. But the book has given her reason — and time — to reflect on “Excellences & Performances” anew.
“It couldn’t be done now,” Ulman said. “It was very specific to its time.”
Nothing like a successful Instagram art project to help you get a solo exhibition in China, hey?
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