CS2006 Visual Curation
Excellences and Perfections (2014) is a performance artwork by Amalia Ulman that spans around 6 months on Instagram, detailing the imaginary life of a small-town girl turned wannabe-model through snapshot-style photography.
While some might criticize the actual images that comprise this work as lacking exceptional technical skill, what is more interesting to our project is Ulman’s success in communicating this new persona. By using popular hashtags and presenting herself as the typical ‘hot babe’ Instagram stereotype, she gained 65,000 new followers that were hooked on to the whirlwind drama that was Ulman’s invented life.
From a critical perspective, it seems that her work draws on the idea that art imitates life: Ulman’s performance narrative is chillingly familiar to hundreds — if not thousands — of girls on Instagram to whom her contrived images are their reality, or a consumerist fantasy that they subscribe to.
At the same time, the artist questions the concept of authenticity in the era of internet identity construction. Thousands of users were ‘taken in’ by her contrived persona, highlighting the fact that the age of high-speed Internet and smartphones has made it increasingly easy to self-publish and have (more or less)complete control over one’s online persona.
While one could argue that this benefits consumers by reducing the power of mass media in content-creation, this also raises several ethical questions, such as the right to present an idealised, artificial self as one’s identity, and the vicious cycle of staking personal validation on the number of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ one has. The latter issue is one that we tried to explore in our project.
What’s On Your Mind?
What’s On Your Mind? is a short film that follows the life of Scott Thomson, a male character who yearns for the idealised life that his social media friends seem to have, deliberately misrepresenting his life online, in the process.
The work presents several contentious issues in social media, chief among which are the power of the individual to omit, select and alter information to suit the image that they wish to present online and the fear that posting less-than-perfect or the ugly, unfair side of life results in isolation and even alienation.
In terms of technical choices, Higton’s shots comprised largely of screen-captured video from Scott’s perspective and personal moments of the protagonist’s life. The contrast between his real and virtual life is made all the more stark by consistently switching shot types. Higton also takes advantage of the soundtrack’s slow build, abruptly stopping the music at the climax of the film when he finally posts an honest opinion of his life to the disinterest of an unseen acquaintance of Scott’s. This increases the dramatic impact of Scott’s choice to finally be truthful on social media.
I was particularly inspired for our project by the ending sequence, which seems to hold a dark mirror to the audience: by not showing the person who decides to block Scott’s content, the audience ‘becomes’ that character. This forces the audience to question their own behaviour on social media when dealing with honest, though gloomy, content.