Meet Artist-cum-Instagram Star Amalia Ulman
Who needs a gallery these days?
At first glance, there is nothing particularly striking about Amalia Ulman’s social media-based artistic project. After all, these days using an Instagram profile to create a flattering, media friendly version of oneself has become the online norm.
Yet on closer inspection, Ulman’s selfie series is more astute and acidic than it lets on—more sociological critique than self-obsessed navel-gazing.
The artist’s perfomative Instagram project took off in earnest earlier this year. After researching the most popular Instagram profiles of young, attractive girls, Ulman set herself the task of creating an online persona based on an amalgamation of these mainstream female types—which she categorized in a recent interview with Vulture as the “Tumblr girl,” the “sugar baby ghetto girl,” and the “girl next door.”
Through October 2014, Ulman uploaded over two hundred selfies to her Instagram account, presenting herself in a variety of attitudes and roles, including the sexy ingénue, the street-wise gold-digger, the Miranda Kerr-style health goddess who swears by yoga and quinoa, and the fashion-minded young creative.
The photographs were simultaneously carefully composed and lo-fi, as is mandatory in the selfie sphere. But the results were so convincing, so utterly resonant with the zeitgeist, that, even for the online-savvy eye, it became difficult to distinguish where reality ended and fiction kicked in.
“The reaction that surprised me the most was how certain people, even though they had been told it was fiction, kept on believing it was true,” Ulman told Vulture. “I found this dichotomy between what they wanted to believe and what was actually happening very interesting.”
Foray’s Into Plastic Sugery
One of the most controversial aspects of the project was the documentation of Ulman’s forays into plastic surgery, which brought her comparisons with the French artist Orlan, she of the extreme plastic surgery-based performances. Ulman chronicled her facial fillers and non-surgical nose job, as well as her (staged) boob job, leaving her numerous followers somewhat confused.
Given the sensational and erotic overtones of the images, it’s not surprising that the LA-based artist—who was born in Argentina in 1989 and raised in Spain—managed to amass 65,000 followers in a very short span of time, the true mark of Instagram celebrity.
“It is easy to increase the likes by using shortcuts to popularity, like following the trending topics,” Ulman told Vulture. “If you are using the Photoshopped image of a woman and a bunch of popular hashtags, the likes are going to go up. On the other hand, the followers did go up, but the absurd explosion is due to another project by another artist, Constant Dullart, who bought fake followers for a handful of artists.”
In her relentless use of the self-portrait methodology, Ulman is part of a venerable artistic tradition. Cindy Sherman, for example, has spent the last four decades inhabiting and parodying a set of mainstream female archetypes, most famously in her Untitled Film Still series (1977-80).
Like Sherman, Ulman seems equally fascinated and repelled by the limited possibilities for female representation in mass media: a social phenomenon that is as easy to dismiss as it is compelling to look at.
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