Category Archives: culture

Molly Soda: Comfort Zone

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If you have somehow never come across Detroit-based artist Molly Soda’s work on the Internet, there’s perhaps little use trying to explain it. Her candid work spans mediums and includes Youtube-based performance art, digital pieces, selfies, and more; but primarily her pieces are a colourful and unfiltered look at her life. Her work is at once modern and nostalgic, utilising technology and looking back on the early days of the internet while considering the complicated relationship between IRL and URL. 

Last year I wrote this piece on Soda’s first solo show, From My Bedroom to Yours at Annka Kultys gallery in London. From My Bedroom to Yours was a pink, kitschy exploration of the bedroom that incorporated screens, selfies, and videos of Molly doing things that would usually be entirely private; dancing, singing, crying. Molly has been busy in the year since we last met, working on a number of projects and getting together Comfort Zone – her current show and her second with the gallery. I was lucky enough to go to the press preview and have a chat with Molly (real name Amalia Soto) today.

Comfort Zone is a follow-up to From My Bedroom to Yours, but wherein the first show explored making the private experience of the bedroom public, Comfort Zone considers that the idea of a safe space at all is an illusion. It retains some of the kitschy, feminine aesthetic of From My Bedroom to Yours but feels a little darker or even more mature due to the nature of the subject matter. I asked Molly what it was all about, and she said: “It’s basically sort of a discussion or a continuation of the last show but it’s more about the bedroom being a place where we don’t feel very good or safe. This idea of safe spaces and basically like, safety is a farce or safety is fake.”

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Despite the show being about the lack of safety, walking into it felt a little like walking into heaven. The white stairs were draped in pink light thanks to some neon lights attached to the ceiling, but unlike From My Bedroom to Yours there were no beanbags – I didn’t get a chance to ask whether or not this was intentional, but it definitely took away any feeling of comfort. Some of Molly’s works were on display on TV and Macbook screens as in the previous show, including an 18-hour long photobooth video of unreleased footage that was never intended to be shown to the public at all.

The gallery’s walls were also covered in non-digital pieces, including clickbait style adverts with Molly’s face pasted over that of the advert’s model. Resin sculptures were attached to the walls, and they appeared to be made from the baby pink tabletops of From My Bedroom to Yours (but again, I was too dumb to ask). The sculptures were covered in mirrors, candy, make-up, CDs – tokens and things that we all own and keep in our private spaces, stuck directly on the wall for all to see.

“We have to tell ourselves that things are safe in order to live life, but it’s not real.”
Molly Soda

Something that affected me were the cutouts of negative Instagram and Facebook comments littering the walls; they served to give just a small insight into the daily onslaught of shit that Molly gets as a woman living publicly online. Comfort Zone is in part intended to explore how we engage with the devices which inform our everyday existence; dissecting our relationship with them and the fact that we are never truly alone or safe.

“We have to tell ourselves that things are safe in order to live life, but it’s not real. The show is about this idea that our private rooms or private spaces are safe spaces but we have our phones and we are plugged into everything. We are never alone and anyone can contact us if they want to, anyone can get our information if they really want to and we’re not like unemotional people who can’t be penetrated by our devices. So it’s sort of about taking what is on our devices and putting it out there instead of what I’m doing in my room and putting it out there it’s more the contents of what I’m doing when I’m surfing the web or things that are really agitating to me.”

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Recently Molly has been refreshingly honest about her financial troubles and the exploitation that she suffers at the hands of magazines and websites that offer her exposure but a) for free and b) sometimes at the cost of cheapening her work or twisting her words. The fact is that many people hear of Molly Soda because of her body: be it her own selfies, conversations surrounding her body hair and body positivity, or Should I Send This? her zine of self-released nudes. While she has been happy to discuss these topics, articles intended to focus on other aspects of her work often come back to or lead with her physicality as an anchor or as a way to get clicks from people that are intrigued.

“My work is talked about in conversation with my body and I think that happens with a lot of women artists, especially young women artists in relation to our bodies.”
Molly Soda

“As an artist, as a young artist you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. Especially when I first started I was so excited if anyone wanted to write about me but as I’ve gotten older and dealt with it more I’ve noticed certain work gets highlighted and certain things about me get highlighted a lot of the time. My work is talked about in conversation with my body and I think that happens with a lot of women artists, especially young women artists in relation to our bodies. Everything becomes about that or about things that people will think make you more interested or relevant.”

I ask Molly whether the cost of exploitation is worth the exposure that she gets in return: “It cheapens your work and it cheapens you in the long run which is why I have tried to pull away from that sort of thing. A lot of artists I know have tried to pull away, but I just feel like artists think that they need the press or publicity but the magazines need them. It’s just insane how people aren’t taught to demand things because they’re afraid that if they demand too much people will say “fuck you, we’ll use someone else.” especially women. Especially women of colour. It sucks, it’s really shitty.”

The conversation surrounding digital/online artists and personalities getting paid and not being exploited by magazines who make $ from discussing their work is an important one, and one that is finally starting to be talked about; in part because it’s something that we haven’t dealt with before. Molly said: “it’s a new problem because we are the first twenty-somethings really trying to make a living off the Internet as well as doing whatever it is they’re passionate about. It’s definitely hard.”

The fact is that consumers get the content Internet artists are putting out for free initially, and then feel entitled to keep receiving it – without bearing in mind that even the Internet famous need to eat. There’s an assumption that if they appear to be popular and doing well, they must be rich; but as long as artists as prominent and visible as Molly keep speaking up, there has to be a tipping point.

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Comfort Zone is a solid follow-up to From My Bedroom to Yours, and they work together hand-in-hand. The show serves to reinforces the fact that Molly’s work is important; her honesty about the reality of life as a woman and an artist may be at times uncomfortable or difficult to hear, but it has to be heard. Even those of us who aren’t artists live our lives intensely publicly, with even our most private moments potentially being in the hands of hundreds of people at once. We are perpetually plugged in and accessible which can abate loneliness for a time, or it can reinforce the fact that everyone in the world is having fun but us. Comfort Zone explores this eloquently and out loud, while giving us a slither of insight into what it’s like to live as someone “Internet famous” for just one day. The fact is that not all of us could handle the shit that is thrown Molly’s way, but she not only handles it – she makes fucking great art out of it.

Comfort Zone is showing at Annka Kultys Gallery through the 12th of November 2016

 

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Handmade Festival 2016 and Leicester’s Unexpected Evolution

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You might never catch me talking positively about my hometown again, but after a weekend at the incredible Handmade Festival Leicester I’m feeling soft. As most of you know, I spent 21 years of my life living reluctantly in Leicester. I hated it. To me, it was a culture black hole, and the only respite I had from the city was in other cities. The only time I felt at home was going to shows in nearby Nottingham or Birmingham or drinking under a bridge. I moved away in 2014 as I saw absolutely no future working in media or entertainment in Leicester; hence, Brighton. In conversations with new friends and colleagues down South I found my hometown frequently being used as a punchline; people who had never been North of Watford telling me that I didn’t look like I was from…ew…Leicester. 

But that is all changing, and it’s by and large changed in the last week thanks to the football. Before my departure Leicester spent millions on a new shopping centre, an O2 Academy, a theatre, a cinema. Its persistent and often fruitless attempts at becoming more cultured (or more like Birmingham) mostly seemed to fail, until the discovery of Richard the Third’s bones in a carpark sparked some major international interest. People all over the world were talking about Leicester, my Leicester, as if it mattered. Benedict Cumberbatch came to have a chat about Richard. Kasabian played a giant show. It was all very exciting.

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But I digress. I was lucky enough to be invited to cover Handmade Festival this last weekend, a boutique Indie festival run by Leicester locals. In the few years it’s been running it’s grown to an event of such a massive scale that it spills across three local venues. This year’s line-up included We Are Scientists, 65daysofstatic, Deaf Havana, Los Campesinos, Brighton’s own The Xcerts, and a whole bunch of other fantastic names. We Are Scientists’ set was my favourite of the weekend and they were on top form as always – bright, energetic, and hilarious. I first saw We Are Scientists in 2007 in a Leicester University student bar (I was way too young) and their return did not disappoint. Bassist Chris Cain’s reference to my town’s recent football achievements might have made me roll my eyes, but for a second, I felt something close to proud.

The Handmade Festival is a mammoth achievement by a ton of talented and passionate volunteers and organisers on a somehow simultaneously huge and small scale. The bands on board seemed genuinely excited to be a part of it, and the atmosphere over the entire weekend was that of a homegrown show, not a festival of even its own scale.

Handmade is indicative of a growing culture in Leicester that I did not see growing up. When I go home now I see adverts for pop culture pub quizzes, Indie festivals, Wheatus shows at The Cookie, new hipster bars. A lot of the time these events and businesses are being put together by talented bartenders and creatives that I knew when I was there, but who had the heart and passion for Leicester to stay and make it a better place. The organisers of Handmade should be proud of the work they are doing to make Leicester the best it can be.

I have never before had people react positively when I say I’m from Leicester, and it’s a pretty alright turnaround. Thank you for an incredible weekend Handmade Festival, and well done on the football everyone!

You can buy tickets for 2017’s Handmade Festival and read more here

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International Women’s Day

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I know this is primarily a writing blog, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. It’s International Women’s Day which for some has elicited eyerolls and cries of “when’s men’s day?” The answer is: November 19th, but you don’t necessarily need one. Enjoy the rest of the year, when your life is easier than that of most women.

Things are changing, and it’s such an exciting time to be alive. So many women are speaking up and loving each other and themselves while making the most beautiful art and media. It took me a long time to learn to love women, and I spent a good few years believing I was ‘not like other girls’. I know first hand it can be hard to lift each other up and not feel crippling jealousy, but learning to love the achievements of other women is a really important step.

As a woman, even a relatively privileged one, I can see the difference in how we are treated. Since the day anyone found out I was a girl I was afforded less opportunities than my male counterpart. I have to work that much harder to prove myself and be noticed. I have suffered daily micro-aggressions: men not trusting my work on its own merits, being talked over in academic conferences, being told my tastes are too ‘girly’. Outrageous standards of beauty and the negative way women talk about themselves wormed their way into my subconscious and made me do silly things like not eat. I have dealt with cat-calling, low-level sexual harassment, persistent advances despite my polite refusal. I worked in a bar for years and I was harassed, felt up, and called a c*nt on more occasions than I can count. All of this and more serious abuse that I don’t care to relive.

So it’s sad that we only have one day, but take the uplifting messages and articles circulating today and let them inform the way you live and treat yourself and others. It can be really, really shit to be a woman, even a privileged one. It’s hard in ways too numerous to count, ways that men cannot possibly understand, and ways that we don’t even notice ourselves as they are so pervasive. It can be shit, but women are so fucking wonderful and I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Treat all the women in your life the way they deserve to be, and celebrate them today and always x

 

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MOLLY SODA: FROM MY BEDROOM TO YOURS

If you have ever googled “Tumblr famous” or used the Internet, then you’ve heard of Molly Soda. The Detroit-based digital artist uses Youtube, Newhive, Tumblr and other platforms to produce and share a number of work mostly based around herself at home. Her work is chaotic, charming, and often melancholy – Soda has produced several videos where she cries or sings alone to the camera while hanging out at home. Her apparent candour and performance of the self is iconic.

I’m a fan, and I can’t pretend not to be. Soda’s complete commitment to her art and girls spoke to me, and made me feel a little more confident in myself as someone who never quite grew out of being a teenaged girl. As a woman who grew up with the Internet, my entire life was public. Bebo, MySpace, MSN…the way in which I presented myself online was everything, and was at odds with my diary at the time. I recently made the choice to publish my diaries online via Newhive, the antithesis of what my twelve year old self would have wanted.

When I arrived at Molly Soda’s exhibition: FROM MY BEDROOM TO YOURS at Annka Kultys gallery in East London, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I expected a lot of pink, glitter, and kitschy aesthetics. I was not disappointed. The small gallery space had been painted pastel pink and filled with pink tables, pink TVs, and technology. Every space held an iPad, MacBook or iPhone with Soda’s work playing, some with sound. Dido’s White Flag played over, and over, and over (as it did in my youth). The space was covered in glitter, diamonds, flowers, teddy bears, and the youthful aesthetic that has become synonymous with Soda’s art. The work itself, some of her most iconic videos and Newhive pieces from over the years, is delightfully at odds with the ‘girly’ pinks. It speaks of the real juxtaposition that happens within young women, wherein we feel such intense sadness and pain in intimate girly bedroom spaces.

 

I was lucky enough to speak to Molly (not her real name) at length, but I wasn’t journalist enough to record it or indeed prepare interview questions. In conversation she was shy, sweet, and insightful. We spoke about digital art and she was happy to educate my novice self. We got into the nature of art, and what is it? Who decides what is tasteful, or correct? We came to the conclusion that anything can be art, but that we both connected more with more modern art that spoke to our experience. I posited that it’s nice to feel a genuine connection and know that you aren’t the only sad girl crying in your bedroom. We talked about how hard it can be to connect with traditional art, and how important it is to have art that does speak to us. Soda spoke eloquently and passionately about Shia LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies project and the participatory, community experience that his piece became – bringing everyone from all over the world. We talked about finding old diaries, and how to choose which names to omit or keep. I was surprised to hear that even with time, she was still embarrassed about their contents, but liked to share. I told her about my own Newhive diary pieces, and she was enthusiastic, asking to see a link to them.

“I want to read your diary!”

What followed was just a chat between young women: about tween diaries, hoarding craft supplies, diamond tablecloths, and moving around a lot with pets. Soda was nothing but sweet, funny, and intelligent. Her work is kitschy, fresh and important –  it speaks to a new generation of women who grew up with their lives intensely private in journals, but conversely public in cultivated profiles. Molly’s recent project Should I Send This? In which she self-published her own nudes, was cause for a huge amount of controversy and online vitriol. This was of course, the latest in a long line of Soda’s work to bewilder and anger (often male) critics. But as far as her fans go – we like Molly Soda because she knows us. Her work opens up important dialogues on adolescence, taste cultures, self-expression, and art. She is happy to embarrass herself in ways that we never could, but we feel a connection to her experience because it’s ours. Molly Soda knows what it feels like to wait for a boy to come online, and that’s why she is so popular.

 

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