The @lilmiquela project, produced by Brud, encompasses an Instagram account of curated CGI images and video, a YouTube account, and music account.
‘OMGLOVEYOU. So brave’, ‘wait so is she actually a robot or what’, ‘it’s a digital art project y’all’: These are all reactions of @lilmiquela’s followers when she announced in April 2018 that she is ‘not a human being’.
Started in 2016, the Instagram account showcases the life of Miquela Sousa, a young woman in Los Angeles who struggles with, and then thrives in, the identity crisis posed by her discovery that she is not human. Created by PR firm Brud, the ensuing narrative plays out in soap opera fashion, exploring her fraught relationship with @bermudaisbae, another ‘robot’. It being unclear whether the account is a complex PR stunt, art, or something else, @lilmiquela demonstrates how cyberculture provides opportunities for artists to explore how we use the online world to express commercial, philosophical, and artistic ideas.
Embedded in the art world – she posts with the likes of Jerry Saltz and Hans Ulrich Obrist at Art Basel and Frieze – @lilmiquela plays with ideas of commodification and conspicuous consumption. There is a fine – perhaps invisible – line to be drawn in what aspects of the work are ‘art’, what aspects are advertising (she pushes her music and Samsung phones), like some kind of Andy Warhol for the cyborg age.
Guy Debord explained the decline of modern society as the degradation of ‘being into having’ and ‘having into appearing’. Social relations have become mediated by images: Below one ‘photo’ of herself and @bermudaisbae, Miquela writes ‘It’s Bermuda’s world, I’m just living in it’, reflecting on the culture of conspicuous consumption and spectacle facilitated by Instagram. Even as we lust over Miquela’s life, she struggles to have a sense of ownership over her ‘lived’ experience, demonstrating how our worldview has become objectified as the economy has come to dominate social life. The confusion among @lilmiquela’s followers as to whether the account is a complex marketing ploy illustrates our inability to differentiate between life and its representation.
Media simulations of reality facilitate experiences that are more intense than everyday life. The airbrushed images of Miquela with her plump lips and streetwear clad Kendall Jenner-esque body, contrast with the fact that it her very banality is also hyperreal in its exactitude. One commentator wrote: ‘I believe you. Even though you are a robot physically, everything else is human.’ Not only her appearance is real – she simulates everyday life to such a degree that it becomes hyperreal and human.
Miquela has a palpable need to anchor herself in our physical world. In one recent post celebrating two million followers, she shows herself in her ‘native’ country, Brazil, meeting her first cat. She tells her followers ‘Wash ur hands, don’t be xenophobic’ – COVID-19 isn’t a real concern for a cyborg, but her abandonment of the previously rigid boundary between the physical and non-physical mirrors our own perennial discomfort in an increasingly hyperreal world.
Self-isolation provides near-perfect conditions for experiencing Miquela and her world. She’s in self-isolation too and captioned her invitation for us all to watch her new music video together with ‘when I say “together” I obviously mean we’ll all be at our own houses … That’s how we doin’ “together” right now’.
Always mirroring our lives, Miquela attempts to root herself in our physical world despite being open about the fact that she is a ‘robot’. This diminished realism has the effect of making her less hyperreal than influencers who contribute to our sense of the ‘uncanny valley’. Through her own unreality, she highlights the degradation of how our own lives have become mediated by images. Will we come out of social distancing and a period of heightened dependence on social media for distant socialising more or less human? Miquela seems the perfect person to ask.
About the creators
Brud describes itself as a ‘transmedia studio that creates digital character-driven story worlds.’ Founded by Trevor McFedries and Sarah Decou, Brud is the creator of the trio: @lilmiquela, @bermudaisbae and @blawko22.
Miquela has released several singles since her debut with “Not Mine,” including “You Should be Alone,” “Over You,” “Right Back,” and a collaboration with Baauer titled “Hate Me.” She released two new singles on 31 July called “Money” and “Sleeping In”. And in 2020, “Speak Up”.
Brud, founded in 2014, has raised $6.1 million from investors including Spark Capital, BoxGroup, Sequoia Capital and Founders Fund, per Crunchbase.
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