Hyper Essay “What is Performance?”

Performance. What is performance, or rather what do you think about when you hear the word ‘performance’?

Darryl talked about the critically acclaimed musical, Wicked. From it’s origins as words in a book to sold out tickets on Broadway (and in international waters), Wicked has become one of the most famous and popular musicals in the world.


In order to produce this musical performance, Wicked required incredible creative talent in order to turn words into reality. Artists had to be engaged to create costumes and stage props, actors to play the parts and bring characters to life, musicians and composers to breathe emotion into scenes. Days, weeks, months, even years, have gone into making this production and performance possible. With every change in cast, in language for performances and a different set of actors in countries like Japan, new actors must be trained and become familiar with the role, perfecting it as their predecessor has. New costumes and props must be made as damage comes with the wear and tear from the endless performances put up.

The planning for Wicked never ends, in fact it still goes on today, and with every performance to come.

Then comes the ‘performance’ by Amalia Ulman (from Angel). What appeared to be an artist hitting rock bottom, turned out to be the greatest social media performance to date, even said to be a masterpiece by The Telegraph.

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To summarise, her work, Amalia Ulman used social media to post her ‘enviable’ lifestyle, showing off how she looked, what she had/did, and sometimes rather promiscuous tendencies. However, beneath it all, it was all fake. Everything she had ‘done’ was fake, and nothing she had posted was real, revealing this all at the end of an elaborate and painstakingly long ordeal.

In this case, we will never truly know the length in which Amalia had taken to prepare for her performance that dazzled and turned the heads of thousands. While unlike Wicked, which drew critical acclaim from the very beginning, Amalia Ulman’s piece had caused many to hate her and even criticise her for what she had been posting, not realising that what she had created was nothing more than a facade, a performance to begin with. She didn’t make money, and in fact, she suffered in order to keep her performance alive, while Wicked constantly raked in large sums of money to keep the production alive.

If you look at them both, side by side, they are both performances, performances of vastly different scales. On one side, Wicked is a large scale production that requires large amounts of manpower and capital in order to keep the performance going for years and years. With a lack of manpower, it would be nearly impossible for such a production to go out. On the other side, Amalia’s performance required just herself, however, it is hard to say that it was any less difficult than the production of Wicked. While it only too one person to execute this performance, the hardship that she, as single person, went through was incredible, and also with little to gain.

Posts from https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/dlim014/2016/01/21/case-study-wicked/ & https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/suhui001/2016/01/21/instagram-as-a-medium-for-art/

Author: Josephine

I like cats 8)

5 thoughts on “Hyper Essay “What is Performance?””

  1. Great comparison on the scale of the projects. Amalia’s performance being a solo one while Wicked being a large scale one. This must have involved a lot of human resource management skills on the part of the producers of Wicked in contrast to Amalia’s work. What do you think would be problems faced if one wanted to recreate Amalia’s project on a scale as large as Wicked? Would the human resource elements differ from that of Wicked?
    #Fifty Shades

    1. If the same amount of funds were given to a large scale recreation of Amalia’s project, I think those who participate wouldn’t have to put themselves through the financial struggles that Amalia’s went through whereby she engaged in getting herself a sugar-daddy in order to keep her head above water.

      However, I think a major difficulty in recreating Amalia’s project on a large scale would be keeping everything undisclosed. To find people who would be able to subject themselves to what she has without facing major ramifications, the negative comments received can be seen as ‘online bullying’ which has led to depression, and sometimes even suicide. Those who are unable to handle might feel inclined to expose the truth behind the project thereby tearing down the facade that they have built for the performance.

  2. I agree with Josephine on how you categorise both projects as a performance. I would like to point out that even Amalia’s project needs a big wardrobe and props! She carefully frame each photograph and cropping out any unnecessary part before posting, so to me that is part of planning as well.

    But nevertheless, both projects are of different scale and I like how Darryl suggest that what if Amalia’s project were to go large scale. I think I have an answer to that. Advertising, fashion commercial photography. Those project are actually as a bigger scale, getting the right model, the right wardrobe and also the right photographer.

    1. I agree that her performance took a lot of planning, no doubt about that, especially since she had to convince everyone that she had gotten breast implants and had to make sure that her breasts looked bigger in every photograph thereafter. However, I didn’t stop the think about the amount of props and the amount of clothes needed to create this persona of hers, as well as the framing of the photos to make them convincing. Thanks for that (:

      I would say that to put Amalia’s project into advertising, fashion and commercial photography would be difficult. Social media is used to advertise a lot of products, and, in fact, Amalia did fake a paid sponsor/advertising post. But the way in which her project and advertising is done is different. The performance she gave us was a facade till the end and only received critical acclaim when she concluded. To create controversy around a brand or model before revealing is was all a advertising ploy can be risky and may even cause a loss in followers, support, and perhaps even a drop in stock value for large companies, causing more damage than rewards.

  3. Hi Josephine,

    i’m uncertain which previous project posts you are referring to. Can you please add links to the original posts of the two projects on OSS?

    Interesting choice of contrasting projects: large budget vs small, short execution vs long.

    I’m unsure if it’s possible to state that “The planning for Wicked never ends, in fact it still goes on today” because in principle each performance is based on the same script and there might only be minor variations between shows. The ‘planning’ of a musical performance leads to a libretto a.k.a. script (and a musical score, and lighting plan, and floor plan, and costume design etc). Once these are delivered, the design is executed by a skilled, trained cast and tech operators over an hour or two.

    The difference in scale (number of people involved) between the two projects is remarkable and you discuss it well. In terms of execution, i understand your argument that Ulman’s project was to continuously reinvent the poses and selfies in order to feed into the “self-made myth” at the same time it was taking shape. There’s perhaps less of a plan and more of an iterative design with numerous updates. During what time period (start and ‘end’, if any) does her work develop? Another point (in your reply), can you explain what you mean by “sugar-daddy [helping her] to keep her head above water”? A boyfriend who supported her? or a fan who bought her work?

    Finally, I think Kamarul is correct when pointing out that upscaling or simply developing further Ulman’s project would lead to commercial fashion photography, rather than Martin Schoeller.

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