Article: Is This The First Instagram Masterpiece? – Amalia Ulman

With my FMP work taking the format of a fashion and beauty magazine, I have often been seeking feedback in order to critique/deconstruct/question – and also have been doing this myself throughout the course of the writing, designing and editing process. The more I have done, the more I question and more that seems to be added, or taken away, editing the magazine continually and taking on board feedback and inspirations in order to make it the best it can possibly be.

A quote from Sooke, taken from below in regard to Ulman’s work states that, “this was her masterstroke: the fact that Excellences & Perfections exists in the very form that it simultaneously deconstructs is a sleek, sophisticated, intelligent move.”

In simple terms, her Instagram-based work aims to evidence that women are constructed and self-curated in order to come across and appear a certain way, not born a particular way and not born into an Instagram famous, digital-celebrity world. This is a notion and ideology which I too have tried to embody in to my work continually, especially into my FMP magazine, “The Industry”, and believe and have been told that my work “provokes the ethical considerations of this cultural phenomena, and has affinities with Ulman’s work”.

I really resonate with Ulman’s work and believe it was a brave and bold move of her to make, reaping in criticisms and judgements whilst making a stance and proving a point through the platform itself which creates narcissistic Instagrammers – the same notion as with my magazine – utilising a platform which often influences for negative deconstructions of oneself in order to educate, advise and inform on it, rather than promote it. The same can be said with my MA Instagram account.

The following article has been taken from The Telegraph, and can be found here.

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“Amalia Ulman’s spoof selfies tricked thousands – and made her the toast of the art world. She talks to Alastair Sooke

In April 2014, a young Argentinian-born artist called Amalia Ulman uploaded an image on her Instagram feed. It consisted of the phrase “Part I”, in black letters against white, accompanied by an enigmatic caption that read “Excellences & Perfections”.

Although 28 of Ulman’s followers quickly “liked” the post, few of them realised that it signalled the beginning of one of the most original and outstanding artworks of the digital era.

Before long Ulman was uploading a series of images – mostly preening selfies taken on her iPhone – that seemed to document her attempt to make it as an “It girl” in Los Angeles.

In some of them she posed in lingerie on rumpled bed sheets in boutique hotel rooms. In others she offered cutesy close-ups of kittens, rose petals, and strawberries and pancakes captioned “brunch”.

So far, so banal: Ulman, who studied fine art at Central Saint Martins in London from 2008 to 2011, had apparently succumbed to the narcissism of social media.

She was mindlessly bragging about her supposedly enviable lifestyle in LA, as she attended pole-dancing classes and underwent breast-enlargement surgery.

“People started hating me,” Ulman, 26, told me recently, speaking via Skype from her studio in downtown LA. “Some gallery I was showing with freaked out and was like, ‘You have to stop doing this, because people don’t take you seriously anymore.’ Suddenly I was this dumb b—- because I was showing my ass in pictures.”

A promising young artist – selected a year earlier by talent-spotting curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, as one of the leading lights of the YouTube generation – was swiftly wrecking her career.

Except that, unbeknown to the tens of thousands of people who started following her, she wasn’t.

Almost five months later, Ulman posted a black-and-white image of a rose, which she captioned “The End”. Soon afterwards she announced that she had been staging an elaborate performance called Excellences & Perfections via her Instagram and Facebook accounts.

All those “dumb” pictures of Ulman, half-naked, staring vapidly into the lens of her smartphone camera? They were a joke. The shot of her bandaged breasts, after her operation to have them enlarged? It was faked.

Ulman, it turned out, had been playing a role – or, indeed, several roles. And almost all of the 89,244 followers she had amassed by the end of the performance had been fooled.

“Everything was scripted,” explains Ulman, who grew up in Asturias in north-west Spain. “I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting: it wasn’t me.”

Now, a year and a half on, several of the 175 photographs that Ulman created for Excellences & Perfections will be shown in two new exhibitions: Electronic Superhighway, at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London, which will trace the impact of computerised technology on artists from the Sixties to today; and Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera, which will examine the relationship between artistic performance and photography.

Ulman first had the idea for Excellences & Perfections while she was at college, but she “never had the budget to do it properly, because I was on the dole when I was living in London, which is a very elitist place”.

Towards the end of her time in the city, she tells me, she earned money as a “sugar baby” – an escort. “I’d rather not talk about it,” she says. “It’s too dark. It was out of necessity: I wasn’t playing around. But being an escort is how most of my female peers are paying for their student fees. It’s very common during these s—– times of recession.”

The experiences of her escort friends, she says, informed the narrative of Excellences & Perfections, which Ulman finessed while recovering in hospital after her legs were “destroyed” in a coach crash in 2013. “I still can’t run, and suffer from chronic pain,” she says.

Planning her comeback on Instagram, she decided to divide her performance into three distinct “episodes”, inspired by stereotypes of how young women present themselves online.

To begin with, in the finished piece, Ulman plays the part of an artsy, provincial girl who has moved to Los Angeles for the first time. This fictional version of herself breaks up with her boyfriend and becomes a “sugar baby” to make ends meet.

This marks the start of the second episode, which offers a pastiche of the “ghetto aesthetic” popularised by American celebrities such as Kim Kardashian. At this point, Ulman says, her anti-heroine self “starts acting crazy and posting bad photos online”. She “gets a boob job, takes drugs, has a breakdown, and goes to rehab”.

This initiates the denouement of Ulman’s social-media satire, as she devotes herself to “recovery”, and uploads pictures inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog Goop: “Kind of girl next door,” Ulman explains. “I liked yoga and juices. That was the end.”

When I first heard about Excellences & Perfections, I assumed that it was a spoof lampooning the self-regarding way we all behave on social media. It seemed like a modern-day, digital version of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress: a sharp diatribe against vacuity.

Not so, says Ulman, who had something more specific in her sights. “It’s more than a satire,” she explains. “I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman. Women understood the performance much faster than men. They were like, ‘We get it – and it’s very funny.’ ” What was the joke? “The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn.”

In this respect, Ulman was following in the footsteps of important older artists who have explored the fluid nature of female identity, from the 20th-century French photographer Claude Cahun to the American Cindy Sherman.

Yet, from the beginning, Ulman knew that she should stage her performance online. She wanted to play with the conventions of Instagram, such as labelling images with hashtags.

This was her masterstroke: the fact that Excellences & Perfections exists in the very form that it simultaneously deconstructs is a sleek, sophisticated, intelligent move.

It also explains why the performance created such a buzz. As a result of Excellences & Perfections, Ulman is now feted as one of the sensations of contemporary art.

“The idea was to experiment with fiction online using the language of the internet,” she explains, “rather than trying to adapt old media to the internet, as has been done with mini-series on YouTube. The cadence and rhythm were totally different.”

Is this why the work was so successful? “Yes,” she says, before laughing. “But I also know that photos of half-naked girls get a lot of ‘likes’.”

Ulman’s Exhibitions:

Performing for the Camera is at Tate Modern, London SE1

This is working towards objective:

1. To understand the ways in which Social Media and Magazines can affect self-perceptions and issues:

A) With body image (Females, 18-24)

3. To work with and interview those both actively working in the Fashion and Beauty Industries, and those on a consumer/follower/user basis, to compare behaviours and perspectives in relation to body image and self-perceptions.

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