Molly Soda Wants You to Know "You Got This"
At Jack Barrett Gallery, her new body of work continues to explore the different ways we live our lives online.
Still from Molly Soda, MY DESKTOP DECOR *RELAXING*, 2020 via YouTube
“I don’t understand what it means to be yourself,” said the artist Molly Soda. “I don’t think there is an authentic self, especially online. Being authentic, being relatable, basically means, can I project myself onto that person?”
This idea is one of the core concepts explored in the artist’s—born Amalia Soto—most recent exhibition, You Got This, at Jack Barrett Gallery. The show is an exploration of the aspirational and authentic constructs of "Internet Culture" which Soda asserts are two sides of the same coin. She subtly positions these concepts in the context of American suburbia, which proves to be a useful conceit, as both the suburbs and the Internet are heavily controlled places where status is defined by the wealth you can project and what others think of you. Soda, who has been a fixture of the internet since the late 2000s when her confessional Tumblr blogs garnered widespread attention, is hardly new to investigating internet culture; You Got This is the latest addition to her body of work focused on digital life, i is a sensory experience, highlighting the degree to which internet culture influences the “real” world and vice versa.
Ironically one of the few exhibitions in Soda’s oeuvre that places some emphasis on physical objects is now closed on account of the current quarantine rules, and at the same time the subject matter of the exhibit has weirdly become even more relevant. Fortunately, the weight of the exhibit lies in the video installations which she's since published on YouTube.
One of the most striking works is a video where Soda redesigns her computer desktop. The computer desktop is not often considered when discussing digital spaces—we don’t often show it off—yet it is ever-present, lurking behind whatever window is open. To showcase it in a video feels intimate, and underscores our cultural fascination with seeing personal spaces. “Interior spaces have become like sets to us, because we’re always broadcasting them,” she said. “I like to view the desktop as one of those spaces.” The style of the video is comparable to room makeover time lapses; Soda treats digital space as concrete, just as valid as the physical world. “I’m decorating my digital desktop space, but I’m using iconography and objects and things that would be found in a YouTuber’s bedroom, which permeates throughout the show,” she said. Indeed, Soda chooses succulents and inspirational quotes written in script fonts to adorn her desktop. There’s an unnerving generic quality to the video; the imagery has a sort of familiar blankness to it, like these friendly icons of beaded curtains and throw pillows could belong to anyone, yet you can’t think of a single person that owns them. She wanted to create a similar feeling with the music. “I’m really into the stock, royalty-free music everyone uses. Songs that everyone has heard, but no one really remembers where they heard them, and they’re permanently in our brain.”
In keeping with the theme of digital landscapes, there is also a house tour video. HOUSE TOUR! My First Home! *FINALLY**, is in fact, a tour of a digital house created using a house-building app. “It’s what the fantasy of owning a house looks like to someone who will probably never own a house,” said Soda. The house looks like a suburban mansion, with an abundance of circle mirrors and a color-coordinated bookshelf. In the video, Soda never makes reference to the house being digital, but she never pretends it’s really physically there either. There is no acknowledgement of the distinction between the internet and the physical world—but does there need to be? “I believe that we’re all sort of performing. I’m performing when I talk to the cashier at Target too. We’re obsessed with understanding the authentic self, but it’s fictionalized. We need people to toe these lines between authentic and fake,” she says. Soda’s work positions her as a screen for people to project themselves onto. She is both aspirational and authentic, just like the rest of us.
Concluding the exhibit is a haul video where Soda documents everything she bought in preparation for the show. It invites viewers to consider an under-discussed point in the aspirational/authentic discourse: money. Money is outside of the apparent limits of what can be revealed in the name of “relatability.” “I feel like, in general in art, there’s not a lot of transparency in where money comes from, how it’s spent, and how much any of this stuff costs. We just see art, we’re not thinking about all this background information. It was a way to subtly talk about that,” said Soda. You Got This does not aim to critique internet culture, but rather to urge viewers to contemplate the evolution of digital life, something we are currently seeing unfold, in real time, IRL.