I found out about New York based artist Molly Rhinestone when we started following each other on Twitter. Eventually I started wondering about this girl who was always wearing about ballroom gowns and talking about the Little Mermaid. Rhinestone works at the crossroads of fashion, fairy tales, net-based concepts and performance that actually doesn’t seem at all out of place from a generational point of view. HerYoutube video performances feature a surreal fangirl, with elaborate costumes, seapunk backgrounds and glitchy Disney effects. As she explains, her work stems from her personal struggle with anorexia and trying to fit in in the Midwest.
First of all, James Franco. You mention him in all of your videos. I mean, I'm sure, like any boy or girl, you have a normal obsession with him, but I wonder if there's also a vein of criticism of his celebrity and the cult that is beginning to build around him.
Totally! I mean,I wouldn't mind if James Franco were in love with me but I'm not about to RL fan girl for anyone (except maybe Cher). I still have all the James Franco paraphernalia from my thesis show hanging in my room. I don't necessarily want his face plastered all over my room anymore but also don't want to throw them away. Whenever I bring a guy home I have to be like "Please ignore the huge giant cardboard cut out of James Franco and the seven glitter portraits of his face, I swear I am not crazy."
I think it's fair to say celebrities are modern day royalty. I'm really interested in fairy tales. Prince Charming types are usually very abstract but overwhelmingly perfect characters one can project their desire onto. They are usually very unattainable. The Little Mermaid has her tongue lopped off, her legs bisected, and dances till her feet bleed to please this prince that she fell in love with from a distance. The prince doesn't even notice. If you’re making a teen girl cyber little mermaid then James Franco is the route to go. What real person is a movie star, famous artist, teacher, broadway actor, and Yale student? Like, how even?
When I was working on my thesis Little Mermaid I knew I was going to make a total performance of incessantly tweeting at my Prince Charming. James Franco had been posting cyber theory and doing all his selfie work. I thought he might be down to interact with me which also played into the choice. He ended up instagramming a bunch of mermaid pictures and screen shots of the original fairytale during my show. I think it would have ruined it if he had actually tweeted back to me and I think he knew that. I still love you, James Franco, even if you wouldn't Skype me during my opening.
Can you tell me about your work?
My work is a fairy tale but there is a GIF of a disco ball where the underwater seashell chandelier used to be. If you look past the luxurious palaces overflowing with radiant burgundy flowers, coral encrusted mansions, and dazzling ballrooms fairytales are essentially a means for people to project themselves within an action and play out adventures to cope with the real world. Creating digital personas can function in the same manner. I'm interested in gender performance on the internet in relation to fairytales. Fairytale heroes and heroines are placed in a liminal state during their adventures, such as a wearing a Donkey skin or living with a beast. They are sexualized yet asesxual, free from human conventions on their adventures, yet limited once they reach their happy ending. The Internet is the ultimate platform for self branding but it can also be a platform where a person can build their personal mythologies. We play in a space free from the rules of the physical world, our underwater shrine has just transformed to code. Underneath the blingee and glitter I'm working to create a mythology that breaks past Disney featureless banality and becomes something truthful.
I usually focus on whatever fairy tale is currently relative to my life. I live the fairytales as I create them. My twitter performance is like the companion reader to my art. At the time I was writing my thesis script I knew I was leaving Kansas City. It was also a love letter and a goodbye letter. I set up this James Franco teen girl installation room that was painted like an Aquarium with obsessive glitter portraits, cardboard cut outs, and even James Franco furniture. On the bed there was this Blingee video of me crying then blowing up displayed on this bedazzled TV while an awful (amazing) karaoke version of *My Heart Will Go On* played. I filmed the original video behind a green screen after coming home from this party drunk and sobbing over this boy. I was definitely feeling the mermaid plight the whole time I made the video.
I'm really getting off to Snow White lately. I've been thinking a lot about digital holograms we create with social media. They are these idealized versions of ourselves and at times we are trying to live up to their standards. Snow White is a perfect fit. The Evil Queen, Magic Mirror, and Snow White can easily function as projections of one aspect of a different person. The original story features seven dwarves for the seven planets and seven elements they thought existed at that time so I'm having a lot of fun keying Sailor Scouts into my video :).
You grew up in Kansas and went to school in Baltimore, and now you're in New York – can you tell me about your experience in the Midwest and in art school?
I'm actually from Oklahoma. My parents are the most bae couple in Oklahoma. My mom is a fabulous sorority and disco queen which weirdly makes perfect sense. (I started this faux sorority at MICA, she was thrilled). I was always performing as a princess when I was little (I guess I never really stopped). I wouldn't respond to my mother until she guessed the right princess name. When I was mad I would passive aggressively scrub the kitchen floors pretending to be Cinderella. I lived the Catholic school life in Oklahoma for thirteen years. I was like a hybrid Lydia Deetz/Princess type, a totally weird outcast in the bushes at recess playing out fairytale fantasies by myself. I used to draw a pet dolphin in the dirt that was my animal friend. I was bullied a lot when I was little and as a result was painfully shy. (My inner goddess had some moments, one time when a guy was picking on me so I poured a vat of glitter over his head.) I think growing up Catholic really sparked my interest in ornamentation and flesh. A lot of my childhood was really beautiful but there was also a brutality beneath the surface. I've always been into taking fragile or cheap looking things, whether it was a broken mirror or a Blingee GIF and creating it into something that has that sparkling fairytale aesthetic. I guess I sort of approach documenting my life on twitter in the same way.
My mentor in college, Phyllis Moore, told me that in every artist’s life there is a traumatic moment that we stop living and start observing and to be a great artist is to take that trauma and make something beautiful. When I was in eighth grade a male classmate sexually assaulted me. It was a defining moment that shaped my art and my life and I couldn't even talk about it until I was 22. I think it was the first time I started consciously performing my life. You can perform for good and you can perform for evil. I got it wrong for a really long time. After a lot of work I started to overcome my shyness but I didn't let anyone know how much I hurt. I struggled with eating disorders for a really really long time. It was kind of like a grown up version of my passive aggressive Cinderella floor cleaning. My anorexia wasn't about beauty, it was about the subversion of beauty. I have a lot of goddesses to thank for saving my life but the little mermaid is the heroine who finally made me save myself. The first time I read the original tale I was at the peak of my anorexia. I related to the overwhelming psychotic desire and vanity, this intense swelling of an animalistic desire that is not about the infatuation with a prince but the freedom of gaining a soul. I was crushed when she died. That day I started this 24 page paper that was a case study of myself in conjunction with famous fairytale and mythical heroines that saved my life. The most important part of that tale is that after all the trauma she is resurrected as an air goddess. I'd like to think I'm using my trauma to create something beautiful too. Hans Christian Anderson gave me the gift of knowing that life can be beautiful again, I want my work to be that for someone.
How did you get involved in art?
I started a rigorous performance program when I was in first grade. I was so shy until the last minute I was on stage and it was like, this amazing release. My parents eventually saw how unhappy Catholic school was making me. When I was fifteen I was sitting in a corner at a football game reading in a corner, totally miserable. My best friend, Bradford Tassey, approached me and randomly asked me to dinner with his friends from the performing arts school. I finally found a place I fit with my amazing friends. They helped me become alive again. Every weekend we would make crazy costumes, cover ourselves in glitter, and run around the city. Now I live with them in New York with them and every day we make crazy costumes, cover ourselves in glitter, and run around the city. They constantly remind me how beautiful life can be, they are my princess girls, family, and soul mates.
I was always going to go to college for musical theater. My senior year of high school I was accidentally placed in a sculpture class instead of ballet. I fell absolutely in love, secretly didn't drop the course, and applied to art school. I didn't know ANYTHING about art when I started. I was like painting this little girl with big eyes and no mouth going on adventures, it was really really bad.
Kansas City is the gem of the Midwest. The art scene there feels magical. I promised myself I wasn't going to be the shy girl this time round. I made a point to make costumes and go out. I made a performance out of my social life I just wasn't aware of it. The first time I got my heart broken I went to this party where I did the Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights” dance dressed in white lingerie while someone poured blood all over me then proceeded to make out with five boys. I woke up the next day covered in fake blood with a string of Barbies around my neck.
I moved to Baltimore so I could take a cyber theory and performance class at MICA. I had just had my heart broken for the first time, had no idea what I was doing with art, and was kind of a mess. I hung out around a lot of really amazing performers like Michael Farley and Ryan Mitchell, I got a twitter, I spent pretty much all my time bedazzling costumes, partying in bedazzled costumes, or reading cyber/ folklore/ performance theory. I went to New York to visit the princess girls a lot. I was fascinated with the NY nightlife scene: the narrative of the looks, the performance of a party. Twitter was this amazing documentation tool. It was like a cyber sketchbook I could scrawl my personal mythology onto. I had been so scared to get too personal with my work in Real Life but Twitter made it easy. Once I said it online it was out there and easier to deal with the real world. It gave me this amazing confidence when I got back to Kansas City. I came and busted out that Little Mermaid video and I moved to New York the day after I graduated.
My last afternoon in Kansas, I dragged my virgin blood stained mattress through campus with *Molly Ryan's Sketchbook* written in lipstick on the top and left it in the Sculpture yard by the dumpster…..then tweeted it.
Tell me about what kind of stuff you do that isn't art, fashion you are interested in that isn't prom dresses.
I work in the sexy costume dungeon of the biggest costume shop in the world! At work I'm usually sitting on top of the desk in a French maid or mermaid outfit reading Invisible Cities or Marina Warner while this giant sign that says *sexy* revolves over my head, it's pretty much perfect.
My roommates and I are involved in nightlife. Susanne Bartsch parties are everything. I install at Catwalk Thursdays occasionally. I had a Snow White Coffin Kissing Booth about a month ago. I think I've kissed about half of New York. I love going out and making my own clothes. A lot of the things I make end up in my videos. I don't think anything gets me more excited than a ball gown and a headpiece. I literally climaxed the other day thinking about this pink Christian Dior ball gown. My roommate just told me to not mention that but I already tweeted about it so whatever.
I'm working on this series of lingerie called "The Body Party" thats gonna be 39 artist inspired sets of lingerie. I'm working on on an all denim garter belt two piece with glitter resin gum for Hannah Wilke right now. I am really excited to make the Ana Mendieta blood hand onesie and Yayoi Kusama pasties.
Besides art and fashion I really like mango-brrrr-itas. I occasionally sit on my bed and think about cleaning my room.