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Amalia Ulman is an Argentinian-born Spanish artist who adopted Instagram as a platform for an art piece titled Excellences & Perfections in which she used images of herself to portray a fictional character whose story unfolded over several months. Her images, replicating popular tropes of digital autobiographical performance were presented and widely read as “authentic” selfies. This chapter examines how Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections can be understood as an automedial work that uses networked photo-sharing practice to investigate: feminine embodiment and self-representation; self-branding via digital media; and the ways in which social media conventions shape the production and circulation of constructions of girlhood.
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For a fuller discussion of the development of Instagram Stories in relation to Snapchat, see Cardell et al. ( 2017).
Socialites like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, and more recently the Kardashian sisters, have also been maligned for gaining fame by selling their personal brands via reality media and tabloid coverage, as were camgirls like Jennifer Ringley.
Not only has narcissism been imagined as intrinsic to social media cultures but also their so-called native inhabitants: young people. Generation Y and millennials are imagined as selfish, self-centred, and absorbed completely in narcissistic worlds created by social media. But, despite much concerned public conversation, research testing narcissism among young people—completed over a significant period (2005–14) that saw a rapid expansion of mobile and social media use, and which used two systems for measuring narcissism in 16–19-year-olds—found “no significant changes in narcissism from either measure across the study time period” (Barry and Rowland 2015, 153).
Although Ulman identifies as “mixed race” (Kinsey 2016), the images and reception of Excellences & Perfections show her passing as white. Indeed, when I presented early research on this piece, despite articulating specifically that Ulman identifies as mixed-race and describing her as an Argentinian-born Spanish artist (which is how she describes herself on her artist website), each time I spoke about this case I received a question about Ulman’s ability to gain fame on social media by trading on her prettiness and whiteness.
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———. 2014b. Instagram Post, May 11. https://www.instagram.com/p/n0tU4BlV8-/?hl=en&taken-by=amaliaulman. Accessed 10 Oct 2017.
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- Hoaxing Instagram: Amalia Ulman Exposes the Tropes of #Instagirlhood
- Chapter 8