From Instagram’s Stage to Theatrum mundi
How the Stage is Becoming the World.
BY IA THOMAS | April 28, 2022
Illustration by Xiaotian Wang
Argentine artist Amalia Ulman is a pioneer in bringing Instagram to British museums. Her piece Excellences and Perfections (2014) is the story of a fictional character, created and scripted by the artist, developing three stages of identity that would fit with the following archetypes: the innocent Tumblr girl, the urban sugar baby, and the spiritual hippie. The performance lasted 6 months, with Instagram as the setting. Then there is British Youtuber Byron Denton, who pretended to be a millionaire for a week by altering his photos with Photoshop, which exponentially increased his followers. A third example is Spanish actress Anna Allen, who in 2015 pretended to launch her international career — even faking her attendance at the Oscars gala — which was, of course, very controversial at the time. As soon as the truth came to light, a ruthless public cancellation campaign against her was launched, causing her to retreat from the faux limelight. The question we should all be asking ourselves right now is the following: Are actions of people like Denton and Allen so far removed from what our acquaintances and friends — or we ourselves — do on the Internet?
You don’t have to be an artist to live a fake life on Instagram. Tell me what you post on Instagram and I’ll tell you who you are and who you’d like to be. We all know someone who wants to appear sociable and, for this exact purpose, only posts pictures with friends. Someone who only uploads photos of their travels: the adventurer. Someone with a profile with only selfies: the narcissist. We could expand this list to include the bohemian, the revolutionary, the nostalgic — surely, we already have an idea of the kind of pictures each would post. These are just some examples of these virtual personalities, each emblems of a performative phenomenon — a phenomenon that is developed by exposing a theatricalized version of one’s own identity in a given context. Though most users tend to present themselves according to their real identity without necessarily forging a brand new one, the amount of information we disclose (consciously or unconsciously) is usually incomplete. We put into effect a representation of a fictional I — a character in a game with agreed rules and boundaries — different from the rules of everyday life. Here emerges the analogy between the realm of Instagram and the realm of theatre. Ideas such as the suspension of disbelief, the authorial intention, and the reaction of the audience exist in both worlds. Thus Instagram, as a performative space, is likewise a theatrical space.