Amalia Soto (b. 1989) works under the name “Molly Soda.” She is a digital and multimedia artist based out of Detroit, Michigan. Described as a ‘digital princess,’ she is recognized for using social media channels such as YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as creative platforms. Her work often blurs the line between life and art, leaving the viewer with an onslaught of questions: Is this the real her? Is this a character? Is this art? She explores topics such as self branding and its relation to self-identity and contemporary feminism and our perceptions of beauty. She is having her second solo show at Annka Kultys Gallery in October.
What have you been working on recently?
Right now, I’m working on a series of digital paintings, but I haven’t shown them anywhere yet. So far, I’ve just been doing them as an exercise - stepping away from the “self” and moving into a more abstract body.
How do you make them?
I usually start them in Photoshop. Sometimes I’ll take them into NewHive and add moving elements like GIFs and then keep layering over them. When I am doing these paintings, I add things that are characteristic of my work such as graphics and then embed and hide them between different layers of digital paint. I’ve also been playing with different ways of printing them - right now I’m working with digital paintings on fabric.
You refer to these works as paintings, how do you see the difference between digital work and painting?
I see it as a painting because I am making brushstrokes and adding things. I’ve made paintings in real life before, but that’s not really my thing. I take so many elements from online, a lot of Internet graphics and GIFs. I tried to make these Myspace glitter text paintings once, but they were not translating.
So you are making a segue from digital to physical?
My struggle is that, although I think digital art looks best on a screen, in general the way people want to consume (purchase) art is physically. So I have been trying to figure out how to make my work physical. People want to support digital art but collectors are not really buying digital art, or some are, but it is so much easier to sell a physical work. They like your work, but they want something to hold on to, like souvenirs.
You have been successful at selling digital work before though!
Absolutely. And I want to have both things to offer and to push myself, try to have my work can go outside the screen but still make it playful and interesting, not just something on a wall. That is why I like working with fabric because you have so much freedom. The pieces are so large but I feel like they cannot just hang on a wall.
Having worked in a digital world for so long, do you feel like the art world treats it differently?
There’s definitely room for digital work in galleries and art spaces, but it’s still a struggle. Most major commercial galleries are still showing paintings because that’s what sells. Most collectors are still not interested in buying it. Collectors see things as investments. Art is not pure once you get to a certain point; it’s all about money. People are not investing as much because they don’t know what the market for digital art is. It is a game that every artist who wants to make money off of their art needs to play unfortunately.
It’s interesting that you are not only moving away from the digital but also from self-portraits to abstract images.
I think there’s a lot that has happened with the self-portrait and it got me wondering: (especially as I get older) why am I getting attention for taking self-portraits and what does that mean? Am I only palatable because I am a young 20-something year old? If I’m making the same work when I’m 40, how will people feel about it? I am more excited about that, but will everyone else be? I like doing a combination of both, and I want to find a way to display all of them together so that it makes sense. I have my second solo show at Annka Kultys Gallery in London in October, and my first solo was all digital and all video. It was like NewHive pieces or videos on YouTube, so everything was already online. It was all work that was made in my bedroom or in my home. So I made the gallery into a bedroom space, and we painted it pink and put plants in it, big bean bags, all kinds of shit everywhere. It was cluttered but reasonable, so I want to make this other show kind of like me feeling disenchanted with my own space.
What are you thinking of for the show in October?
I want the show to be my whole bedroom but a darker version of it. I want to make these sculptures which are reminiscent of tabletops with clutter all over them and then seal them or resin them. I have been doing these purges, in which I take objects from my room that I don’t want anymore, and I photograph them and destroy them. I don’t know what I’m doing but I feel like this show is a huge purge. It's a big bedroom that’s not comfortable anymore. It’s a desire to get away from (or rework) all of these things that you once cherished. I want to make art that is more installation based and more immersive. The best way to see my art is online in place where you are comfortable. So, when you’re viewing my work in a physical space it has to be more interesting than just prints on a wall. Otherwise people might as well go home and google me.
Are you guilty of hoarding?
I am more of a collector. I like knickknacks and tchatchkis. I go to the thrift stores and feel like I need another unicorn figurine and more clowns and another fake Louis Vuitton purse. I have a My Little Pony collection. If you got to my house it’s like an 11-year-old girl decorated it.
Did you have a Xanga?
I did! Xanga was my first blogging platform and Neopets was my first website where I interacted with other users.
Tell us about your 18-hour video your just finished.
I got a computer last year and have been gathering all of my Photobooth and videos on it. I probably have hundreds of thousands of Photobooth videos and images that I have been recording since I was 18, so almost a decade of material now. I always wanted to see that play out, because I feel like I have so much digital clutter. We can feel the weight of it, but we don’t understand what that means. Imagine if you printed out every file that was on your computer and saw what would that looked like. The entire video is 18 hours and 33 minutes. It’s a collection of everything. People tell me “Oh Molly, she is so raw online, and she shows so much of herself and posts so many embarrassing things” and yeah, that’s true but everyone else curates everything to a certain degree. For every selfie you take, nobody takes just one. Nobody just has one take. I like to record everything, like I record myself cleaning my room with no intention of posting it online. For example, I’ll take 10 videos in a row of me practicing the same karaoke song. All of these things were not meant to be seen by anyone, either because they were too embarrassing or too boring or if I left the video on for too long. I took this footage and gave it the same amount of time and the same amount of value.
When did you start taking selfies and putting them online?
When I was 13 or 14, I got my hands on my dad’s 2 megapixel digital camera and started posting them on my Xanga and LiveJournal. Then I got a Tumblr and it became more abstract. It wasn’t just a diary anymore, it became more connected to my art practice and my online identity. Everything merged together. I always thought to be an artist I had think within these lines, but I like that now the lines are blurring and people look at my instagram and ask “is this art?”
When was the moment it transcended into art?
Exactly, I don’t know! I think there is always a discussion around my work. Is it art? The thing is I don’t care if people think it's art. You have to understand that I am also a human being, and I don’t use my social media solely as a promotional platform or tool. I’m not like “Hey, look at this piece I made.” Sometimes I just want to take pictures of my friends and things I see.
Do you embody a character for your audience?
Yes and no. When I set out in the beginning I was like I am going to go by Molly Soda and be this caricature of this person that I want to be. As time went on, I feel like my IRL and my URL started to merge into one person, and I feel like that’s natural because of how our generation uses the Internet/has evolved with the Internet. I also felt a responsibility to be more sincere and honest rather than being funny and mysterious and confusing.
Would you say everyone curates to a certain degree online?
Everyone is performing online. I wouldn’t say this is something that I plan around. I don’t feel trapped in that way. If anything I feel like the internet has been beneficial in my growth as a person. For example, I’ve been able to meet and connect with so many people.
Do you collaborate a lot still?
I am working on a book with Arvida Byström that will feature all images that have been removed from Instagram. It comes out in 2017.
Do you normally work with other women?
Pretty much exclusively. That’s what I am interested in for the most part, femme identities making art. I also like to work with women who do not necessarily make the same work as me, but who I admire. I just finished a book with Sara Sutterlin who is a Montreal based poet. We asked a bunch of artists to participate who we admire. We then paired them all off and we asked them do work based on the other person’s work, which made for a very interesting result. The book comes out at the end of this year.
Do you ever get any backlash for your work? Like when you leaked your nudes?
Oh yeah. That piece got a lot of backlash, which was interesting because I didn’t think anyone would care about it. I made a zine, and I made it free online and people were like, “I can’t believe she is naked in the pictures!” People were either making comments about my body, how I wasn’t feminist, how I wanted attention, or how it wasn’t art. They were either insulting how I looked or my politics. I don’t think I’m so brave or so radical but the medium always spins into something like “Molly Soda doesn’t shave, that is so radical.” Your work will always be skewed and you lose a degree of ownership once you put it online. Everyone is seeing you as a 2D dimensional thing on a screen, but that is what we all do to each other. That is the toxic thing about online: everyone takes everything at face value. It is really easy to judge people online because you don’t have to try to understand them.