Artist Molly Soda hails from one of the first generations to have the ability to (almost) solely exist online. If you were born in the mid 80s or early 90s, then the gravitational pull of the possibilities of the internet were both scary and fascinating. We saw it evolve and develop; we saw sites like Geocities (RIP) phased out for more polished platforms like Blogspot and Wordpress, and MSN Messenger (equal RIP) for Facebook. However, no matter how much things changed, those possibilities of being online have remained, at the core, the same.
Yesterday a woman presumed dead was found to have lived for the past decade in an internet cafe, falling deeper into a gaming wormhole with every terabyte. On the flip side, and with perhaps more productive intention, artists like 26-year-old Soda – alongside contemporaries Alexandra Marzella and ‘movements’ like Sad Girl Theory – have been using the internet as a way to communicate, build, deconstruct, rebuild and question ideals of body image, self-worth and femininity.
Although she’s usually based in Detroit, it’s hard to have not ‘met’ Soda. Whether you’ve seen her dancing on her bed, singing to her webcam or crying into it, Molly Soda epitomises the ‘girl alone in her bedroom’ image that exists in us all. In the 00s, her tumblr got her upwards of 30,000 fans, and now that same no-holds-barred openness has found her another 34,000 followers on Instagram alone. It seems she’s tapped into a huge market of girls like her, and all the feelings that come with that – happy, sad, the whole spectrum. Her work is so relatable, not only because it exists in its entirely online, but because she breaks through the fourth wall that most of us keep shatterproof when it comes to constructing our identities, whether online or off.
“These comments seem to speak for themselves and shine a light on why I need to make work like this in the first place” – Molly Soda
Earlier this year her New Hive hosted should i send this? series – where she ‘leaked’ her own nudes – premiered on Dazed... and the internet went crazy. Seriously, you all went absolutely mad. The article’s comment section blew up, and Facebook turned into a cesspool of hatred and ‘wtf is this’/‘whyyy Dazed’. Refreshingly, a huge majority of people, including a chunk of the mainstream media, celebrated Soda’s ability to share such intimate details of her life and her body – things ‘we’ are usually ashamed of; lip hair, belly hair; loneliness – the latter of which she also explored in other series Me And My Bear, where she documented her relationship with a giant stuffed toy.
For the most part – and Soda admits she welcomes opposition to her work as much as she does support – the negative commenters had missed the point. And by doing so had also played directly into the very reason that Soda (or at least online Soda) exists. She told us in the wake of should i send this? “The zine was a way for me to sort of purge all of my thoughts on romance, intimacy, sex, etc. Things were piling up in my head and literally on my cell phone, so I wanted to put it out there as an act of letting go. I don’t want to be afraid of saying or doing anything – if I am, I need to figure out why and squash it.” She added, “These comments seem to speak for themselves and shine a light on why I need to make work like this in the first place.” All this is – much to her ‘haters’’ dismay – freshly channelled into new work, which in turn fuels more comments and, of course, more attention... more work... more comments, you get it.
Currently in London for two weeks to open her first show outside of her native America, titled From My Bedroom To Yours, Soda installs her bedroom in Annka Kultys where she has turned the east London gallery’s white walls pink, bringing an oeuvre of video works and GIFs from the online universe into the real world – where they will also be sold on hand decorated USB sticks, dependant on each works’ online views. The exhibition will also prove that it’s foolish to think Soda is merely an internet personality; dig deeper and you’ll find references to artists and philosophers, work like Tracey Emin’s cult masterpiece “My Bed” and parallels with Jacques Rancière’s The Future of the Image – where he describes the relationship between an image and reality as, ultimately, intertwined. Ahead of the opening, we met Soda to talk about living on the internet, why it’s okay to be alone and the importance of oversharing.
So although you ‘live’ online for the most part, you also live in Detroit, what was the reason to go to Detroit? Artists usually flock to New York, go to LA...
Molly Soda: It was sort of random. I was travelling through Detroit and I went to stay with a friend and decided to stay just because I liked it so much. It's really, I don't know, it's nice because the work that I do is online so I can really live anywhere as long as that it's easy for me to travel to and from, and Detroit is really cheap. I grew into the idea of having space as opposed to living in like a big city – I don’t need some fast paced lifestyle, I like the idea of having a house and being really chilled out and relaxed and having my space and my time to work.
That’s interesting that you say that you like your space – how much of your life do you share online?
Molly Soda: I think I share everything for the most part, especially because I share a lot of my alone time. That’s a lot of what I do in Detroit, a lot of alone time. You know, I have roommates but for the most times I'm spending my days at home alone and I gravitate towards my bedroom a lot. I think a lot of people do, especially a lot of women; their bedrooms are their spaces. And we are often hanging out on the internet in our bedroom so it's sort of like what I'm doing behind my computer and bringing that to someone else's room in a way.
I guess it’s almost like isolation....
Molly Soda: It's nice though, because I get to travel and do things when I want to. But it's (Detroit) just good for my workflow. I feel like my work has gotten better and I think that I make more work now that I live in Detroit. I'm not so worried about how I'm going to pay my rent or like what...yeah I'm not like super stressed, you know?
You grew up in the Midwest of America – I don't know because I've never been there, but – I imagine that to be a bit different from growing up in New York City or somewhere like London, where it's assumed to be more open-minded or liberal because of the constant flow of people and influences coming through. What was it like growing up in that kind of town?
Molly Soda: Well I grew up in a college town, so in the Midwest it's filled with college towns and that is like the only thing happening – students, and my parents are both professors. So it wasn't so bad just because the town I was living in was pretty liberal and I had access to cool music and cool things to do just because of all the college students, so it wasn't so bad. But it's interesting that I'm like drawing back to the Midwest now, I think that it's just because I happened to like living in Detroit, I don't think it really has that much to do with like location, living in the country...or maybe it does, I don't know. I like the weather, I like seasons.
You’re 26, I’m 27, and I remember getting on Yahoo! Chat when I was really young and it just being some kind of new and weird world where people would private message me like “wanna cyber”, and I was thinking "what the fuck is that?" My parents had no idea about what was possible to do on the internet, neither did I. I don’t think anyone did – it was all new. What was your first experience?
Molly Soda: It was similar to that, you know? I grew up with a computer from an early age with the internet and I remember, in the US it was really big to have AOL instant messenger, and it was the first time I could flirt with boys! And there was a lot of weird stuff that happened where I would like talk to people from my school that like I didn't talk to in person. That was my first taste of that, like, online friendship. The internet was so different. You could build your own website with Geocities or Angel Fire or whatever, and I think a lot of my work sometimes can be reminiscent of that. That low quality GIF thing, and because GIFs are, in a weird way still as restricted as they were when they first came out, it's interesting that they are so widely popular even though they're only 256 colours. I started with blogging really early and I think that was what got me into like my oversharing and the way that I share. I started with LiveJournal when I was a teenager and it was just kind of a diary for me, and that's how I made so many friends.
I’m from a small town in Australia, outside of Melbourne, and I made these random friends in Texas because I couldn't really relate to the people that were around me at the time. Is that what you found?
Molly Soda: Yeah! Even though I lived in a very fun and liberal town and I had a lot of friends I still felt like I was going to the internet to relate, to find more people that I could relate to or learn about things that I didn't have access to, like music, maybe some music, certain fashion trends. In high school, I was really into The Cobra Snake.
Molly Soda: Yeah! That was my first intro to party photography, you know? I was like ‘these people in LA are so cool!’ I had never been to LA – I still haven't been to LA actually – but it was interesting the way that people like me were trying to relate (to it). I think a lot of people that were using the internet were trying to find people to relate to. And I think people still do, you know? I think that if I were younger and online now I would use the internet probably similarly, but also differently just because habits have changed, but I think that a lot of people even now use Tumblr as an outlet and a way to find friends, and people that have common things with them.
“I gravitate towards my bedroom a lot. I think a lot of people do, especially a lot of women; their bedrooms are their spaces” – Molly Soda
I didn’t have a huge awareness of feminism until I was in my early 20s. I wasn’t necessarily going through feminist text books but I was online, however a lot of this stuff is being discussed online now. How important do you think that it is for it to be accessible?
Molly Soda: I think it's amazing, I think it's super great! I didn't get into anything like that until college until I started reading. I didn't even know what feminism was, but I hadn't thought about it or talked about it until I was 19 and I read my first piece of feminist theory book – I'm pretty sure it was something from The Second Sex, because that was like very basic first step – but then my mind was totally blown! And then the first time I saw someone with armpit hair, for example, I was also probably 19 and I was like at a music festival and I thought ‘That girl is so pretty and cool! She just like doesn't care! She's so cool!’ And then that is when I started doing it. So it's nice that that is online too.
It's sad, but I do feel like we need validation, as women, sometimes.
Molly Soda: You do need it! Like it always helps me, and I need it to. The thing is maybe people feel validated by my presence online, but I need them just as much they might need me, because I'm like feeling sad or I need that validation too, from their responses. Even if some responses are negative that's fine, but like just having someone be like, ‘oh, me too! I understand!’ is so helpful. It goes both ways.
The internet is a huge tool for your art, what do you think your work would be like if it didn’t exist in the way it does today? Would you still create?
Molly Soda: I think I would. I went to school originally for photography actually and I wasn't interested in PhotoShop because I didn't know how to use it. When I went to school I had only taken analogue photos and I was actually really against it (PhotoShop) and now I use Photoshop in everything.
Do you remember what you didn’t like about it?
Molly Soda: I was just like ‘digital photography is stupid and real photography’, you know? At this point I couldn't care less about any of that, but I was just like ‘digital photos are stupid, I only want to take black and white, like 35mm whatever like, Holga whatever’. And then I was still blogging and half-way through school I was like:, ‘Oh, I don't really think in photos the way I thought I maybe did! I feel really bored’, then two years into it I was like, ‘I don't want to do this anymore’, and it wasn't until I started taking web design and video art classes outside of my program that I got into the idea of making work the way that I do now.
How long have you been doing work like you do now?
Molly Soda: Well, it's evolved a lot, so at the beginning I was mostly doing video pieces from my senior thesis in college which I graduated from in 2011 and since then I had been working mostly in video. Now I kind of do a mixture, now that I have been using NewHive because they help me because I was making art websites in college – websites that looked like NewHive pieces essentially – but I was coding it all and I was like ‘this is tedious, I can't do this outside of school, because I'm not getting paid to do this, and this is taking me too long.’ It was like too much work, and then NewHive came along and I was just like, ‘this is amazing! It's so intuitive and I don't have to code it if I don't want to.’
How did people react to your early videos? Because obviously, with your work on Dazed especially, we have seen this whole spectrum of how people react, so how did your professors and the other students around you react?
Molly Soda: I think that a lot of my work was actually pretty well received in the beginning, just because I was using humour a lot in my work. So my first major piece was "Tween Dreams", a bunch of 12-year-old girls and I played every character. I think that was just funny to watch someone like do that, I have always found that work is much more accessible if it's funny and if it's humorous, so in the beginning I was using humour a lot... more maybe as like a safety net...
Molly Soda: It's kind of scary to try to be funny, but I think that I was trying to be more humorous and I think that I still use humour in a certain way. I feel that people are more receptive to work that they feel entertained by, or that they can easily digest in a way, you know?
I interviewed Cortney Cassidy about a zine she did called "Girl Problems" and it's just this black background with text like ‘the burden is heavy every morning when I have to put on a bra’ – all these things that women often think but don’t say – and she said that she uses humour to protect herself, in a way, because otherwise people wouldn’t take her seriously.
Molly Soda: Yeah, totally! I think it's just easier to use humour because it makes it more digestible. Even with Twitter, if I'm like trying to say something real or share something, or whatever, I'm still going to make it a little bit funny just because people would then be like, ‘Oh, re-tweet’.
“The thing is maybe people feel validated by my presence online, but I need them just as much they might need me” – Molly Soda
Do you think men have to do that though?
Molly Soda: Probably not, but I don't know you know? I'm not looking at what men are posting online, like, I couldn't care less about men. Like honestly unless you're my (male) friend... otherwise I don't give a fuck about you.
When I think about artists and personalities and people that I follow online, outside from my real life, they're all women, for the most part. I think that it's just because they have things that interest me and things to say that I think are cool or interesting or beautiful or whatever… and for the most part I don't feel that way about men. And maybe that's because I just only consume a certain kind of thing like, I don't know...
When I think about the artists and the people that exist with an online personality I don't really think of men...
Molly Soda: Yeah, yeah, and I've also realised that the amount of people whose work I'm consuming and looking at is so small. Because, for example, I'll be on Instagram and someone I'm following will tag a friend or something and then I will click on their friend’s page and I'd be like ‘This person is making cool stuff too!’ and then I just get into this hole, finding all these people… It feels like it’s almost impossible at this point (to find everyone), which is great. Then I’m like, ‘who are they following? Who's cool? I need to know!’
Who inspires you most?
Molly Soda: I'm really inspired by other girls in their rooms and I'm really inspired by random YouTube videos. You know like ‘me dancing to Taylor Swift’. I Google things on YouTube like, "me dancing to..." or "me singing to..." I love watching, essentially, what I do but just made by different people Like 13 year old girls or whoever! Also I’m obviously super inspired by other artists, like Arvida Byström, or random girls I follow on Instagram...
It's interesting that you say 13-year-old girls jumping around, because there is this beauty in being young, not being touched by certain influences yet, just literally yourself.
Molly Soda: It's really weird because I feel like there is a lot of shame in YouTube videos, I feel whenever I watch YouTube videos a lot of the women speaking are always apologising. I don't know if you ever noticed this where they'd be like, ‘Oh, sorry if it sounds weird’ or like ‘Oh my God, sorry there was like a train going by outside’, or ‘Sorry my hair looks really bad today’ or, ‘Sorry I've been sick’ – they're always apologising and it's very weird to me because they're making these videos by themselves but they're intending to put them online, and then they are also already combatting the negative comments that they are anticipating getting by apologising or saying something about it at the beginning. I don't know what that has to do with anything that you just like talked about but they are always prefacing with an apology. I think that when you are 12 or 13 you're still kind of figuring out and learning to be ashamed in this weird way. (Soon after that age) You feel like people are judging you and there is this coolness factor that suddenly pops up… Like middle school, I think it's honestly one of the worst times and also kind of the best times, which is why I really liked making work about it when I did… and I really like that aesthetic too, childish but still of womanly in this weird way. You're not really sure if this is a lady's room or a kid's room, which is what I want the gallery to look like when it's done... I want the room (in the gallery) to be reminiscent of my room at my house.
Molly Soda’s From My Bedroom To Yours is on show at London’s Annka Kultys gallery, opening tonight and running until 16 January, 2016. For more information, click here