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Amalia Ulman Uses Instagram to Stage Powerful Social Commentary

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The amount of their own lives people actually pour into Instagram can vary dramatically. Some try and keep things impersonal, others use it as a kind of visual diary, but neither one is considered out of the ordinary. So it appeared to with Amalia Ulman, an idealistically, 'conventionally attractive' girl whose account started to chronicle her transition from humble beginnings to a new life in Los Angeles.

It's a story we've all heard a million times, but people still lap it up, and as Ulman's story progressed, her follower count bloomed, and then things took a turn for the unpleasant. There was a break-up, self-questioning and even plastic surgery, but then things took a turn for the redemptive. Clear her story struck a chord with a lot of people, as she gained 50,000 new followers through this progression, but here's the thing - it was all completely fabricated.

A photo posted by Amalia's Instagram (@amaliaulman) on

Amalia is a performance artist, and the images were part of a project called 'Excellences and Perfections', an exploration of the way women portray themselves on Instagram, and how it plays into established conventions and stereotypes. Photographs from it are going to be displayed at the Tate Modern during an exhibition later this year. The project has spawned arguments both for and against, the biggest criticisms of it being that firstly that the fictional nature of it diminished the meaning, and second that it was fundamentally no different from any regular Instagram profile (there are those who think that Instagramming is a performance art unto itself, regardless of intent).

A photo posted by Amalia's Instagram (@amaliaulman) on

Ulman argues that the fictitious grounding of the piece was a reflection of how much of Instagram is just a facade, airbrushed reality. She also made it clear that she wanted to demonstrate that "femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman." I suppose the real question is, regardless of what Ulman might say, whether or not getting more followers and attention was an accepted goal when she started the project, or just a side-effect.

A photo posted by Amalia's Instagram (@amaliaulman) on

My issue with it is that it does seem to almost belittle the people who actually engage in that kind of social media activity, even it is unhealthy, there's nothing to be gained from admonishing the people involved in it. You can't shame or mock people into bettering themselves. As far as Instagram-based performance art goes, this at least involved some genuine effort, and some inclination towards originality, which places it leagues ahead of Richard Prince's project, in which he displayed and auctioned off Instagram pictures from other people's profiles at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, some for up to $100,000. That's not art, Richard, that's stealing.




Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Amalia Ulman Uses Instagram to Stage Powerful Social Commentary Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 Rating: 5

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