Interview with the self-confessed ‘Webcam Princess’, Molly Soda

  • Words: Victoria Pearce

Molly Soda is not your average artist; her work makes up a fraction of today’s ever growing Digital art movement. Through a variety of digital Platforms, her web-based performance art explores issues surrounding self-identity, feminism and our online authenticity.

After the success of her first Exhibition in London ‘From my bedroom to yours’,  the self-confessed ‘webcam princess’ is back with her new display ‘Comfort zone’. Her latest exhibition showcased at the Annka Kultys Gallery in the heart of east London is a display of selfies, videos and screen grabs taken from her various social media sites where she has developed a significant following. Comfort Zone brings together the artist’s exploration of how social media, instant messaging and constant online sharing invades and affects our lives today, blurring the lines between our private and public self.

In Soda’s own words “Comfort zone is about taking my virtual private space and publicising it”. The material explores the concept of safe space as a misconception. Molly notes, “We often view our private spaces as safe spaces, however in reality were not really that safe from anything. The Internet and our mobile phones are now like archives that store all our weight and personal emotions. Our feelings are now more visibly chained to us”.

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We caught up with Molly to learn more about her latest work.

How long have you been making digital art and what/who have been your main influences?

I went to university to study Photography, when I first started I had never used Photoshop. I was really into analogue photography; I’d only really had experience with black and white photographs. Growing up however, I always put my life online; I was very into Blogging, Livejournal, Xanga and Myspace. I was always uploading photos of me and my friends and recording everything we did and putting very personal things online.

I later began merging my art practice and my online self more and more as I started learning about other types of art that weren’t photography. When I began to learn more about performance art I decided to take a web design class, which taught me about making websites as art pieces, a concept that I had previously never really fully understood. It was around my junior year of college that my brain flipped and I realised that the internet is actually a really huge place of inspiration for me and that I should work with that and that’s when I started to really play with those ideas.

When I was at school, a lot of the artists that influenced me were older performance artists such as Marina Abramovic or Carolee Schneemann. However once I got online more, I became aware of other artists that were using the Internet to get their art out there for example, Grace Miceli. I think were a similar age, so whilst I was on Tumblr doing my thing, she was making zines and doing her thing, so there were also a lot of young artists exploring this territory around the same time as me.

How did you get into the industry? What advice would you give other young people wanting to pursue a career in art?

I have a lot of advice for young people. I would say a big piece of advice is getting over the social hierarchy. No one is cooler or better than you, if you think that it will be harder for you to produce work or approach people. I have to constantly get out of that mind set. People on social media today are made out to be these amazing shiny people. Even those who are praised for being authentic or real online are still often placed on a pedestal. At the same time I also think that the Internet has made these people more accessible to us, it kind of puts us all on the same level. If you want to work with someone, it doesn’t hurt to approach them. It might not always work and it often doesn’t but it’s worth a try. When people email me, I read everything that I get and I respond accordingly.  I’m always reading my emails and I’m constantly on my phone. However I won’t always know about certain things, not everyone has the time to do that much research, so if you want to work with someone, make yourself known and if they don’t respond to you then fuck it! At least you tried. That’s something that I always had to get over when I first started out.

Why is the exhibition called ‘Comfort Zone’? Are you suggesting that we feel more at ease when behind a screen?

Comfort zone is more of a general term. I feel comfortable in my room engaging with the Internet but at the same time I’m dealing with a lot of emotions that are often uncomfortable. We view our private spaces as safe spaces, however in reality were not really that safe from anything. The internet and our mobile phones are now like archives that store all our weight and personal emotions. Everyone has always dealt with personal issues but they were never stored to a device, our feelings are now more visibly chained to us.

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Molly Soda Comfort Zone at Annka Kultys Gallery, London, 2016. Courtesy: Annka Kultys Gallery. Photo: Damian Griffiths.

Would you agree however that people very rarely show their emotions online, often only portraying the happy times in their lives and do you think that this creates very high expectations of life?

I don’t think so; I think people have to tell themselves that not everything you see online is the absolute truth. I often have a hard time not accepting things at face value. I look at celebrities and ask myself why I don’t look like them but then I remember they have personal trainers, makeup artists and plastic surgeons. Unfortunately the way people are taught to feel good about themselves is by making themselves appear more accomplished than other people, when really we all suck at different things and have our own flaws.

This isn’t your first exhibition in London. How would you compare ‘Comfort zone’ with your previous exhibition ‘From my bedroom to yours’?

‘Comfort zone’ is a sort of continuation from my first exhibition in London. ‘From my bedroom to yours’ was more about making my actual private space public, whereas ‘Comfort zone’ was about taking my virtual private space and publicising it. My first exhibition focused more on work that I’d made in my room and what it meant to publicise it as well as the way we perform for our devices/webcams.

I was also looking at the authenticity of the things we post online, for example if I post an embarrassing video online it is still curated to a certain degree because I intentionally chose to post that video so that  people would perceive me in a certain way.

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At the opening of your exhibition, I noticed there was quite a young audience. Would you say this represents a large part of your following? Why do you think your work appeals to a younger generation?

I think a lot of younger people are more plugged into the Internet. I’m 27; my generation saw the birth of social media and the internet, whereas younger generations have never experienced a time without the internet. I think people who are younger can therefore relate to my work a little more, however I think the subject matter is still relatable to a number of different people.

Your exhibition ‘Comfort zone’ focused a lot on the chaotic online world and our reactions to it. How would you say social media has impacted our lives, both negatively and positively?

The positives have been that I’ve been able to connect with so many different people and work with such a huge variety of artists. The Internet has made me feel more confident in the fact that there are people who think in similar ways to me and have the same opinions.

On the other hand I think people forget that people are people behind their screens and there are a lot of assumptions made about people online. The Internet is a place that allows for a lot of negativity, at the same time I think it’s almost good that people express negative opinions more openly online rather than talking behind each others backs. I can’t really tell you whether it’s a positive or negative thing, there always has to be bad with good.

People however must understand that whenever you are putting anything online, it’s open to everyone’s interpretation and opinion. I learnt this very early on when I dated someone that I was very publicly open with online. We would often post about each other on various social media channels, which invited the entire Internet to be invested in our relationship and to critique it. This meant that when we broke up, there was a lot of aftermath to deal with publicly, whereas normally you would deal with an issue like this very privately. I learnt that everyone has something to say and if you can’t handle people making comments on your private life then don’t post about it online. I’ve now made it a rule to only post about myself; it can only be about Molly Soda.

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Constantly putting yourself on display means you gain a large amount of support from a huge audience. However this also creates an opportunity for people to openly express negative and often unkind opinions of both you and your work. Does this affect you and if so how do you deal with it?

I think I’ve just learnt to deal with it through years and years of exposure but I do sometimes get upset and express discomfort over it. It’s really easy to ignore someone who makes comments like “you’re ugly” or “you’re stupid” because it’s probably some stupid bro who would have picked on you in high school anyway. I find it does hurt when it comes from someone who I can relate to more for example if a woman criticises me, I would get a little more upset about it.

On the other hand I’m also aware that not everyone is going to like me and I can’t make everyone like me. I do also think criticism is important, there have been times where people have commented on my work and I do often take that on board and think that maybe I should have done things differently. It’s a constant learning process! I think if everyone does like you online, then maybe your not being that honest to your true self.

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Do you think having such a large online presence affects the way you relate to people offline?

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t really go on my phone when I’m out, only if I’m bored or at home and need to engage with a device. When I’m with my friends I rarely use social media, nor do I post anything about my friends on social media. However, I wouldn’t say that what I do online and what I do in real life are completely separate. My friends can see what I’m doing on social media and I’m constantly receiving notifications but I wouldn’t say I need to mentally jump from one place to another.

I always think my Instagram is so boring because I rarely post pictures of me when I’m travelling or out and about but I do think it’s interesting when other people do it. I do sometimes get jealous or envious of those people because I think they’re always having such a fabulous time whilst I’m at home posting pictures of me with my teddy bear. However I then remember that I do have fabulous times, I just don’t always post about them online. It is easy to get swept up in what people are doing online and sometimes you just have to disengage and tell yourself that what you see online isn’t always real.

Would you say having such a large online presence has improved your confidence and helped you to become more sure of yourself?

It has and it hasn’t improved my confidence: I Definitely feel more sure of myself and what I’m about and what I’m doing. However, I still get really worked up in my head about stuff. I sometimes think things like: Why isn’t this person following me back, I thought they liked me or I’ll be on Tumblr scrolling through pictures of really attractive women and wonder why I don’t look like that. As humans were taught to want more and to never really be satisfied, I think this is really normal; the internet just makes it more obvious.

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How has your artwork changed with the evolution of the Internet? Do you see yourself on social media in 10 years time?

My artwork has definitely changed a lot with the evolution of the Internet, simply because the Internet moves so rapidly. Some things are now a lot easier for me to make whilst others are also harder. For example if I wanted to make something using older technology, it’s now a lot harder for me to access that. Some forms of technology are now more accessible to me, whilst others are obsolete.

Also the Internet is less of a free place in my opinion. Now we have to stick to social media platforms, which are very streamline and often can’t be customized. If you look at anyone’s Facebook or Instagram they all look the same, they just include different images. MySpace and Livejournal were places where I learnt the basics of coding, they were spaces where I could tweak things to my liking, add gifs and music. Sure, you may have felt like your computer was going to crash every time you visited my site but I was able to make that happen! Now there’s very little freedom to create the online world that you want.

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Molly Soda Comfort Zone at Annka Kultys Gallery, London, 2016. Courtesy: Annka Kultys Gallery. Photo: Damian Griffiths.

What are you currently working on? What can we expect from you in the near future?

My brain has been buzzing a little recently. I have a solo show coming up in April in LA. I’m planning on putting my work related to ‘Comfort Zone’ and ‘From my bedroom to yours’ on a side for now. Instead I’m planning to look back and unpack a lot of the stuff I was creating as a teenager and use that as content for a new body of work.

I’ve found getting hold of my older material (social media accounts and posts) really difficult because the internet is moving so rapidly. For example my Zynga archive at the moment is just this huge mess of code, which I’m currently trying to figure out. Much like my Zynga account 10 years ago, In 10 years time we won’t have the content we post on Instagram, so it’s really important that we start thinking about backing up our content. We can’t rely on sites such as Facebook and Instagram to hold all our content and memories. The Internet moves so fast. Things change.

To see more of Molly Soda’s work, visit her website here.