Excellences and Perfections


“On the surface, the project seemed relatively simple: On Instagram, Ulman, now 29, spun a pastel-pink narrative of herself as an optimistic young woman pursuing her dreams in Los Angeles. Things started innocuously enough (“another sunny day in LA aaaaahhhh i lov my life,” reads an early caption), but after she broke up with her boyfriend (“dont be sad because it’s over, smile because it happened”), things took a turn. She chronicled her post-breakup breakdown – sexy mirror selfies, escorting, implied breast augmentation, tearful videos – and her eventual recovery through yoga, meditation and avocado toast. Amid selfies and inspirational text posts, there were photos of berry bowls and flowers in bloom.

Ulman’s Instagram account gained thousands of new followers who watched her seemingly personal journey. And then, five months in, when she hit about 90,000 followers, she revealed that it was all a performance. She’d cast herself as a semi-fictional character based on popular images that certain girls (affluent, young, often white) post of themselves on Instagram. In doing so, she revealed how emotions and experiences can be staged on social media, often for attention, or out of loneliness, or just wanting to have others bear witness to one’s personhood.

While the performance would win Ulman acclaim in the art press, it received backlash from followers who had become invested in her character’s narrative and felt they’d been deceived. But that was precisely the point of her project: to unpack the performativity of social media itself”