Amalia Ulman: Labour Dance
6, Bellenden Road Business Centre, Bellenden Rd, London SE15 4RF, United Kingdom
October 1 – November 5, 2016
Labour Dance, the latest exhibition at London’s Arcadia Missa, presents thecheeky performative work of trending artist Amalia Ulman. The exhibition consists of two video installations on chunky television monitors complete with both inflated red balloons and deflated, ceramic red balloons. The black and white tiled space is bordered with stock images of the New York skyline covered by white, sheer curtains. Ulman’s well-known motifs of corporate life and the female body along with her heavy use of today’s media technology is carried over into Labour Dance.
Argentinian-born Ulman creates work that encompasses installation, video, and net art. She rose to fame with her performative piece, Excellences & Perfections, which was documented entirely on Instagram. In the piece, Ulman played on ideas of the real and virtual-identity, female sexuality and objectification, and clichéd storylines. After four months, the artist revealed that it was, in fact, a performance, to the relief and dismay of many. With Labour Dance, again Ulman caused an uproar, with many wondering if the artist was really pregnant or not as she posted images of herself with an oversized belly on her Instagram. The work’s title comes from trending YouTube videos where pregnant women document themselves dancing to induce labour.
Rather than detract from her performance, the angry, emotional reactions on Ulman’s Instagram, such as Instagram user jessbignell.x’s declaration that “Faking pregnancy really isn’t cool (thumbs down emoji)” and anna_stuff112’s comment, “#Faker” serve to add value to Ulman’s piece, prompting the question of what is real and what is constructed in this age of hyper social media. Does this add to our identity or mask it? One cannot fail to see the parallels between Ulman’s pregnant body and the deflated and inflated balloons filling the gallery. The irony of the proprioceptive aspect of the balloons is not lost on the viewer, especially when trying not to trip on the stagnant, lifeless ceramic balloons tossed around the gallery floor. Perhaps she really is pregnant, but rather than giving birth to another life she is birthing her identity, whether contrived or legitimate.
A (faux) pregnant Ulman on the television monitors captures video selfies in an elevator where, in another vignette, we see her playfully throw water bottles across the room that magically land upright. These humorous videos reek of narcissism and the aura of a mundane corporate office life while creating a critique of class and an exploration of female identity. Ulman explores the sense of entitlement to complain that is associated with such power. She emphasizes that the privilege of this position and perspective is not accessible to many.
Ulman’s red-clothed appearance and “friend” Bob the pigeon make appearances in Labour Dance as well, sanctioning her playful, red, aestheticized, and branded identity. Recurring themes and symbols in Ulman’s overall work are hard to miss—in fact, they are aggressively blatant and intentionally so. Amalia Ulman, the person, the story, and the controversies, is the performance and piece of art herself. The performer and person here are linked in such a way that they are now indistinguishable from one another. Whether that is avoidable today in a society consumed with online personas is still up for debate.