We’re Quarantining at Molly Soda’s House

It took me a long time to make this “dream home.” I greenscreen-ed myself into it. You know all of these songs. Because of the way that we use the internet now, I think of everyone’s spaces as little sets. The video itself, I got very into another weird tier of YouTube: dumpster diving videos, which I wasn’t even aware was a thing. Whether we feel really close to someone because we watch their YouTube and they do certain things to let you in — someone appearing relatable, but at the same time having things that maybe you desire. No one really knows anyone’s background. I wanted to make these weird windows where you were looking into someone’s space, but maybe it was the part of the backdrop the camera isn’t focused on. The other thing I wanted to touch on was the amount of product that is mentioned — what all of that product looks like in someone’s home, what it physically looks like in a space. I did make a Fritos candle called “Crumbs in the Couch.” All the candles were knock off versions of regular candles like Yankee Candle, something that you would buy at T.J. I made an entire candle display [it just smells like literally like you’re sitting on the beach drinking a margarita and you’re loving yourlife and you’re super rich and like you own a yacht, 2020]. It’s the making of the set, and then the revealing of the set. Thinking about how working with brands or sponsorships equals validity or success, that article that came out about teens doing fake sponcon, it so perfectly sums up a lot of this.With influencers, perception is reality. I made one called “Work from Home,” which is the tuna scent combined with the Febreze scent. Everyone’s beauty room looks the same. As someone that’s been using my room as a backdrop for so many years — my bedroom has also become a set. It’s this space that no one looks at, but we spend so much time on. The artist Molly Soda — born Amalia Soto — has spent much of her career dissecting the space between how we live on the internet and how we live IRL. It’s always this visceral, fucked up looking bag of stuff. It really started with the window pieces. But it’s also this thing that people aspire to. I got boxes and boxes and boxes of people’s barely used, expired makeup.What program did you use to make the House Tour background?The house was designed in a program called Planner 5D. Her interest in these backdrops — from a tricked out beauty room/home office to a suburban McMansion — is also eerily relevant to our current WFH moment.”It’s always a play with authenticity and relatability when it comes to the internet because I think we’re so longing for it in ourselves,” Soda says in a Skype call. The beauty room-slash-home office is the pinnacle of success — work from home culture, which is really crazy because now we’re all stuck in this work from home hell. I became really into candle reviews, hauls, and things like that because I thought they were so weird. Something that smelled like firewood would be a candle called “Flame” and it would look like a small-batch artisanal type thing. I wanted to make a scent-based piece because I had never done that before. MLMs are really representative of the ideas that YouTube presents to us. We want it from each other, but it just doesn’t exist.”Where did you start with this exhibition?I’m someone that makes a lot of work about the internet and also spends a lot of time online. No one really knows how much anyone’s making. A lot of them will be, “Dumpster Diving at Bath & Body Works” or T.J. Everything has the same color palette, the same types of furniture. That wash of familiarity, but not being able to place it, knowing that you’ve seen it a million times.You mentioned iconography earlier, but I wanted to talk about these motifs more. Throw pillows. They usually will show you the bag and then clean it off and do the haul. All of these homes are stock in some way. Her latest exhibition, “You Got This,” a sly series of video works and installations, analyzes the pervasive wellness, self-help, and self-improvement economies that populate Internet culture—specifically YouTube—as a conduit for consumerist behavior and aspirational “realness.” Currently on view by appointment at Jack Barrett Gallery, and accessible online, “You Got This” riffs on the tropes of vloggers and stock suburban aesthetics as a way to archive this current moment in American hustle culture. Maxx or Ulta. I was really inspired by T.J. Obviously I’m sharing this inspirational post as a means to an end — I want you to read that and sign up to sell Arbonne products or whatever. Apparently Ulta employees — and probably employees at other stores — are told to do this thing called a “soup.” They make a mess of this makeup to deter people from taking it from the trash. They’re building out environments to create content. No one can smell these candles right now, but I made like 50 scented candles ranging from nice scents — or whatever you may think is nice — to scents like cat litter. There’s a very intense hustle culture. I also was thinking through the sped-up makeover video. I’m sure before you film, you’re placing everything perfectly. And people have these really flowery descriptions. Related | 15 Artists Create Work About Quarantine and IsolationWhen I think about YouTube now, I mostly think about how it became a Wild West economy, a way for people to monetize their lives on the internet using relatability.I feel like being a YouTuber — someone who gets paid for being themselves, essentially — is such a dream. Candles are really their own genre, their own world. I also was thinking about our obsession with transformations and constantly re-upping or improving. Throughout the show I work with iconography of popular YouTube bedroom/social media backdrop — the plant functions in that as well. Scent is so personal, so it’s hard to determine how people would respond to them. YouTube royalty-free stock music is really important. I got really into the Ulta ones. Who are some of your go-to people to watch? Someone says that they’re doing YouTube full time — what does that mean? People dumpster dive and will come home with bags of stuff, but it will all be covered in foundation, crushed up eyeshadows. That’s something that’s always existed online, but it’s become more ramped up, especially as brands have permeated the internet. “We want to feel that. It doesn’t have to be legitimate, it’s just what people think that you’re doing. It’s very empty language. Everyone is using them, but you can never place what it is. Everyone’s home office looks the same. Some candles were cheeky. Scent is a luxury good. I did that based off hundreds and hundreds of posts. What objects presented themselves to you as super significant?Candles were definitely really important. I mentioned MLMs before. Maxx and Marshalls in particular, and I wanted to make a discount candle rack. A lot of the work that I make is about performance and the idea of being looked at, or the idea of a false sense of closeness that we feel online. I’m interested in plants in general and the phenomenon of how popular it is to have houseplants, how there’s been a resurgence in that. I’ve done a lot of random things, like GIF hauls, playing with the language of YouTube and the style of YouTube in different parameters. I didn’t want to do any work directly about MLMs, but I’ve been following a lot of MLM influencer-type people that also inhabit YouTube and use social media. I even have a fake Boy Smells candle, same label. Also, I wanted to do something a little bit fun and try to emulate a YouTube bedroom within the desktop. I had a Love Spell candle, Victoria’s Secret. Succulents. But there’s no transparency. Makeovers. I was like, I can’t smell this. I think it’s important to archive it. Looking into these spaces and thinking about them as a starting point for a “Clean with Me” video or something like that. The internet’s just changed a lot in the last 10, 15 years.Related | Sit Across From Marina Abramović in ‘Animal Crossing’Let’s talk about the “Wanna know my secret?” video. That was the first piece I made, not even intentionally for this show, but it fit really well.In a lot of my work I bring in desktop space. If climbing the rungs of influencer culture is a new kind of American dream, that ascent has shifted the internet into a bankable arena for flaunting status — not just selling products, but also personality. Also, I got really obsessed with multi-level marketing companies. Recently I’ve been trying to find YouTubers that aren’t full-time-YouTubers-that-live-in-LA kind of vibe, who are in that stage of aspiring to be a big YouTuber. You can see that in the way that they carry themselves. They often share inspirational quotes. Something that always gets me is in these videos natively on YouTube is, these people are obsessed with being organized. When I decided I wanted to emulate this dumpstering process, I put out this open call online and asked people to send me unwanted makeup. And so, you can almost predict what is in everyone’s set. My idea was to make a dirty cat home kind of vibe, and it really smelled stale, urine, salty…a bad pet smell trying to be covered up, basically. We see YouTube as something that feels very accessible in the sense of — I could do that, I could be that. They all feel very linked to me, and they all feel very American to me. There are these levels of aspirational: there’s Celebrity YouTuber, and then at the bottom there’s someone in MLM. Self-improvement. It’s all very stock, but it’s all very predatory. All of the text is made from these inspirational posts I’ve archived. With candles, it’s up to someone’s descriptions. I really wanted to do a house tour based off of all the house tours I’d been watching. This segues into what you were doing with the “Desktop Decor” piece. A lot of the ideas there get to the capitalist “bootstraps” mentality of a lot of these genre-videos. Or genres to watch?I watch Emma Chamberlain and some of the really big YouTubers. Also especially for me, who makes so much work that goes online, whenever I put work in a gallery I want it to have a physicality to it.All images courtesy of the artist and Jack Barrett Gallery Maxx. And brands want that. With makeup, with clothes, whatever you’re hauling, I can see it, I get a sense of whether I would want that. Your online self is not something to try and play with, it’s something to market yourself or to get a job. A perfectly symmetrical, verdantly green Monstera Deliciosa leaf, the just-right scent of a bougie candle, a freshly pressed eyeshadow palette — all are aesthetic currency for a specific type of contemporary success, one that reads as #influencer or #spon, reflected in the shiny digital surfaces of Instagram and YouTube.