From a TV mounted on the wall at Annka Kultys Gallery in London, Molly Soda is saying that the blue eyeshadow she’s applying is inspired by a PJ Harvey look. On a different screen, Soda is applying blue lipstick, her face intermittently obscured by the words “SUBSCRIBE” and “LIKE.”
Dollz avatars and pixel art fairies are sprinkled generously throughout Soda’s new exhibition, Me and My Gurls. They appear almost as frequently as pictures of Soda herself. In another video, she's dancing to Madonna’s "Into the Groove" surrounded by CG ladies who match her enthusiasm, if not coordination. On a different monitor, a checkerboard of women with Soda at the center sing Rihanna’s "Stay ," all of them united by the decision to make variations of the same content.
There’s a simultaneously pleasant and unnerving nostalgia in the room—a relatable pang of being a girl on the web post-millennium. Balloons printed with scathing comments from Soda’s online audience are scattered through the space. And a stream of printed comments from YouTube spill across the floor, pondering repeatedly: “Is this a joke?”
She’s an artist with a venerable online presence—68K people follow her on Instagram, and last year, Soda and Arvida Byström released a book of images censored by the platform, called Pics or It Didn’t Happen. But Soda’s solo show doesn’t try to reproduce her online persona or curate a flattering, aspirational version of her life for others to gawk at. Instead, she is magnifying the very personal realities of being a woman online.
VICE caught up with Soda to chat about the show, femininity, and how the internet simultaneously liberates women and tears them down.
What's your take on girl culture and how that functions in your work?
I've always been interested in girl culture, especially on the internet, because I think it's something that doesn't get looked at. It's something that is dismissed as being shallow or superficial, but I think that is just wrong. My work itself also gets dismissed as shallow or vain or narcissistic, but I really think that says something more about the person looking at it than about myself, because I firmly believe that we're all shallow and superficial in our own ways. We're very interested in pointing the finger at other people, but I think that ultimately reflects something about us.
How did your collaboration with Arvida Byström come about?
We had both had images removed that we had posted and Arvida had been complaining about it on Facebook or Twitter somewhere, and I messaged her and I was like, “Oh, I think we should make a book about this because I've been seeing a lot of people complain about this.”
And do you feel like that’s more of an issue for women than men?
Yeah I think so. I think it's also the way that we're culturally expected to present ourselves. I think there's a lot of things at play there. I wonder if women are more likely to photograph themselves in such a way than men are. But I do think that bodies in general are very much policed, and I'm not so much anti-censorship as I am interested in collecting things on the internet and drawing lines. So whenever I'm making a piece or whenever I'm working on a book like this, I'm not telling people how to feel, I want to just blankly present information and let people reflect on how the internet they use is really not in their control, because I think that sometimes we kind of forget about that.
Do you hold onto your life on the internet so you don’t forget it? Do you consciously archive any of it?
I try to, yeah. I'm really interested in the content of what I upload, but I'm still very interested in how it lives on the internet. What the website looks like and how the comments look and everything as a whole is really important for me, and design is constantly changing. I'm really obsessed with charting all of that as much as you can, but it becomes daunting. What do I choose to archive and what do I see as negligible? And I'm always thinking about the future: will I want to see this in ten years or 20 years? So now I try and archive as much as I can for that reason.
So what ties the pieces in Me and My Gurls together?
It's a very cluttered show, but I'm a maximalist so that's fine. Every piece is connected through the use of an avatar. There's a lot of abundance in the show. In all of the videos, there is the theme of multiples, collecting, or e-hoarding. I'm taking my collections and lists and making work out of them.
For example, in one video I'm singing a song, and surrounding me are 41 other women singing the same song. Then in another video I'm dancing, and as you watch me dance, you're seeing more and more dancing girls join me on screen, and as the video continues, I become the avatar—I become one of them. There's an element of blending in—the anonymity of everyone doing the same thing online. It’s simultaneously very beautiful, that we're all sharing these experiences and doing this stuff, but also very isolating and lonely.
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