In 2014, Amalia Ulman began posting photos to her Instagram account chronicling a luxe, stereotypically feminine life in Los Angeles.
As the weeks passed, Ulman’s Instagrammed life morphed slowly from softly-lit roses and sexy mirror selfies to something darker. She appeared to have had a breast augmentation. She posed with a gun. She posted videos of herself distraught and weeping to an audience that has grown to more than 94,000 followers.
Then the photos turned back to shopping, yoga, and healthy brunches, before ending with a shot of her in a man’s arms.
The photos were of Ulman, and at the same time not of her at all. Ulman is a concept artist. The 186 photos were part of a series, Excellences and Perfections, that examines femininity and the authenticity of the lives we document on social media.
The series will be featured as part of an upcoming exhibit titled “Performing for the Camera” at the Tate Modern in London.
It wasn’t a prank—Ulman’s first post was a placard reading “Part I,” with the series name in the caption. But audience reaction was split, with some commenters praising the series as a work of art and others believing they were watching a real life unfold.
“Some gallery I was showing with freaked out and was like, ‘You have to stop doing this, because people don’t take you seriously anymore,’” Ulman told the Telegraph.
In the filtered images, Ulman’s life was quite literally golden, with selfies that evoke the wide-eyed gaze of a Vermeer subject. Her now critically-acclaimed project took aim at the assumptions such photos carry.
“With Excellences and Perfections, people got so mad at me for using fiction,” Ulman told Interview Magazine. “That was the main critique: ‘It wasn’t the truth? How dare you! You lied to people!’ Well, that’s because you should learn that everyone is lying online.”