If you don't know Molly Soda by now where have you been? Molly Soda is the digital performance artist with a prolific online presence who makes web based art through a variety of different digital platforms. The insta-girl-reality-model-youtube-star/artist is all over social media and like the majority of her generation, she has grown up online. She uses her online life as her material and as her medium, and last week saw the opening of Soda's show “Me and My Gurls” at Annka Kultys Gallery, London.
I was curious to see how her online performance based virtual work, would translate to a gallery space, being such a different site to her usual internet based social media platforms. The show's set up replicates the idea of Soda's desktop before everything has been archived, and we are invited to take a look at videos, balloons, prints and comments that have come from her various online interactions. Although some may perceive her work as shallow or superficial, if you take the time to look deeper, and I mean longer than a three second insta-gratification, you will find an intricately complex and engaged artistic practise, powerfully addressing structures of identity, especially female identity. She successfully explores the notion of authenticity in the interactions of our online selves, by looking at how social media, instant messaging and constant sharing, invades our lives and in turn affects our interactions, highlighting and blurring boundaries between the personal and the public. She forces us to consider what it means to have a private life if we are sharing everything.
Hers is a feminist lens that draws attention to the innate misogyny hidden within the structures of our societies and culture and of course, most obviously, the internet. By making most of her work in her own home, her own bedroom even, she continues a tradition of much art made by women being very personal, and much feminist art being about the personal. The fascinating difference to earlier feminist art, that she is able to exploit, is that the internet enables her to get her work out there and seen, on her own terms. Through it she draws particular attention to the controls that girls and women are subject to, especially in terms of their appearance, by subverting the Beauty Myth. Her video piece, “Shimmery Blue Eye Shadow Tutorial” sees her installing an almost 15 metre scroll of mostly unpleasant, printed out comments, following one of her YouTube make-up tutorials . With the comments printed on paper (IRL), the physicality of it, right there in front of you, makes it impossible to scroll down and ignore, like you might be tempted to do on your phone or laptop. In the gallery you are obliged to take the comments seriously and to consider them with the gravitas they deserve.
Soda dances with her gurls in another video which shares the same title as the show “Me and my Gurls” . We see more and more animated gif gurls join her inside the video frame, each gurl trying to be sexier than the next . They all keep on dancing, vacantly, keep on looking pretty, keep on looking sexy, fulfilling expectations. Similarly she is joined by her gurls again in the video “New Profile Picture” this time the gurls are almost obscuring Soda's own image as she positions herself for her selfie. But perhaps the most powerful and resonant piece in the show is Soda's “Me Singing Stay by Rihanna”. This video simultaneously shows Soda and about 41 other gurls singing “Stay” by Rihanna. The videos are all found footage from social media sites, of girls singing their hearts out, generally in their bedrooms, into the abyss of the internet, looking for connection? Soda is in the middle, singing amongst them, and as you listen, they look and sound like, almost a chorus, hinting at a type of togetherness. But the melody of the song is (almost) lost in the dissonance made by the different interpretations of each girl's rendition. By using the trope of the girl, singing her heart out online, on her own, looking for connection (or love?) , but in isolation, and by putting them all together, Soda highlights their isolation from one another. She forces us to consider the strange sterile connections we make, in an online isolated space where we seem so connected together, but where we are really very far apart.
I love the intensity of Soda's work. And seeing Molly Soda herself, in real life, at the opening of her show, makes me think even more about, the real Molly Soda. For a fleeting moment I experience that weird feeling you get when you think you know someone, just because they are famous or you have been following their online feeds and channels. But just because you have watched them unfolding their lives online, it really doesn't mean that you know them, or that you can pick apart what separates the online avatar from the real life person. If you go to see this show the you cannot fail to miss the intensity of Soda's work, and if you have ever worked with performance and video you will truly appreciate the amount of “work” that has gone into making her online persona “work”. Private and public blend and merge and although for me there is a pervading sense of intense emptiness, and a sadness within her "Me and My Gurls" show, I feel this is exactly what she is trying to show us. She manages to reflect back at us our own lives, where we are so connected but also so isolated, empty and alone. By inviting us to fall into the bottomless abyss of internet avatars , comments, shares and gifs, and leading us through the gaping hole of emptiness that is online identity, she is able to subvert the usual tropes, and make us see ourselves and our relationships with the virtual world, more clearly, doing so with a clever sense of humour and fun. And if you are looking for the real Molly Soda, perhaps the place where you can really see her is in the certainty that she has spent hours and hours and hours, disappearing into her screen, because of the never ending, complex nature of the seriously hard graft and work that she does, to make her art so engaging and so relevant.
Go see it!
On at Annka Kultys now until 16/06/18