Created by Amalia Ulman, this hoax consisted of creating a fake and totally unreal persona on Social Media to expose how we constantly lie to be liked by others.
It’s true, our social media life is a hoax in itself: each photo, comment, hashtag, even memes are the tools we use to build a profile that, despite allegedly being a portrayal of who we are, ends up being a fabricated unrealistic representation of what we expect in life and what we want people to think about us. I remember when a wave of parents got on social media, my father gave us a full speech of how social media was the end of privacy and anonymity as we understood it. Again, he was absolutely right, although in some things. These platforms have become such an important part of our daily life that we have given up our privacy. Yet at the same time they're also a filter to beautify ourselves and present a product in accordance with what people want and not who we really are.
Bearing that in mind, in 2014 Argentinian artist Amalia Ulman decided to explore this rising phenomenon in a performance she titled Excellences & Perfections. What was this about? Simple, from April to September of that year she created a character she portrayed on main social media platforms to see what were the things that engaged people and how they interacted with the fake lifestyle she showed. Intrigued by the main ambiguities of today’s world, she wanted to explore how contradictory we’ve become when it comes to self-promotion. Take for instance all those messages people love posting to encourage others to be themselves, while they’re actually not being that honest. Ulman was not only interested in how we use these technologies but how much they impact a person’s self-understanding.
Basically, she studied the profiles most people tend to look up more. With this, she determined that there were basically three main profiles that encompass the ultimate “Instagram girl” that is copied by many and generates more engagement from SM users: the “cute girl,” the “sugar baby,” and the “living goddess.” Once she got the elements of her personification and understood the requirements of these profiles, she devoted herself for five months creating a believable narrative to publish on her different platforms and replicate how people, more specifically women, present themselves online and how they’re seen as well.
What was the story she created? The Amalia from social media went through extremely relatable events in her life. She first moved to the city and documented the craziness of adapting to this new and rushed lifestyle. She broke up with her boyfriend, with whom she had had a very long relationship, so you could find sad quotes and posts about growing from these experiences (accompanied, of course, by really cool pictures of her new life as a single, young, and beautiful woman). She would go back to depressive states of being in which she did drugs (and openly documented pictures of this stage) and decided to have plastic surgery to make herself feel better. This and the drugs naturally generated some ranting on social media, but she apologized to her followers, who took her back as soon as her life seemed to be getting better (She even got a new boyfriend! How exciting, isn’t it?). All in all by the end of her project she ended up getting around forty thousand followers who would avidly comment or like her many publications.
So, what were the results of the performance once she finished it? The most important thing she got to see was that, besides the flashy and enviable lifestyle she portrayed, women who shared similar experiences with makeovers or difficult moments in life were really supportive throughout the whole process. However, she ended up receiving random messages applauding her will to follow these standards. At the same time, she got a lot of hate from people who believed the beauty standards she was portrayed were absolutely outdated, so no one should encourage others to follow them. Finally, of course, there were tons and tons of messages with really disgusting comments reinforcing the objectification of women, which basically happens any random day.
Now, there must be something beyond proving a point we already know, and you’re absolutely right. This performance not only showed that social media repeats and replicates gender stereotypes, but translated these same attitudes to a circle that claims to be only focused on creative and intellectual process: the artistic circle. As she had already witnessed, social media has a huge impact on the distribution and appreciation of art, but even before these platforms had taken over basically every single area in life, female artists were also judged and appreciated for their appearance before even considering their overall work.
At the end of the day, this became an exposure of society in general. No matter who you are or in which circles you move, there are ingrained behaviors and patterns that need to be changed. This performance might have gotten a lot of hate from people who claimed this was by no means something to be considered art, and they might be right. I mean, there are many performances out there that I don't consider art, but I do believe this is a really valuable project we should study until we all realize the reach and impact of social media in the reinforcement of gender stereotypes (and so many other issues that would require days to be discussed).
If you want to get more acquainted with Ulman’s project and her work in general, take a look at her Instagram account: @amaliaulman
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