you say tomato, i say tomato girl
kiss! kiss! splat!
A few weeks ago, I went live on TikTok for the first time. I was wearing a Women Long Spaghetti Strap Full Cami Slip Camisole Under Dress Liner, Small, Camel that I had purchased on Amazon for $13.50 as well as a red push up bra bought on sale from the Victoria’s Secret outlet near my apartment. Armed with a playlist of viral TikTok songs, I danced for the camera. Viewers trickled in and out during my 38 minute stint. Some knew who I was, “Hey Molly! Big fan of your art.” Most were just passing by.
Dirt: dakota johnson if her dad was abusive
Ferndoggie’s Hangout: 😍😍😘😘😘❤️❤️❤️
Manuel Morales sent Rose x1
RW_22_: the vibes are immaculate
Chriss😎💯: Wtf am I watching
Heather Jill: girl you need some chapstick
ColdPizza: this is not hot
Marke awesome Dawson: Great moves Molly
Performing on LIVE felt like being dumped into the middle of a piano recital you didn’t practice for or one of those nightmares where you show up to school naked. The view count would go from 12 to 228 in a matter of minutes. Online feedback normally feels more detached when it's in the form of comments on something like a YouTube video. Here, though, it happens in real time, thus making the performance feel more charged in the face of it all. I’d attempt to read the comments, which ranged from praise to occasional vitriol, while trying to keep a straight face, dance, smile, blow kisses, and self-monitor my level of attractiveness.
This 38-minute dance routine resulted in the creation of a 1 minute 56 second video titled tomato girl. The piece was inspired by a .gif of Trisha Paytas meditating on LIVE, which I wrote about in Desktop Diary #2. In the .gif, TikTok users are sending an in-app gift called “Throw Tomatoes,” which prompts an animation of two tomatoes being thrown and splatting on the screen in quick succession. Commenters react by asking users to send more tomatoes and wondering if anyone else is screen recording the interaction.
I set out to orchestrate a LIVE performance that used this built-in “Throw Tomatoes” function. Upon further research, I realized that TikTok didn’t have a built-in “Throw Tomatoes” function. I couldn’t find any evidence of the existence of “Throw Tomatoes” aside from the .gif of Paytas, a reddit post about it, and the YouTube video the .gif probably originated from. Part of me wonders if the entire thing was faked and if that even matters.
Because of these new limitations, I opted to doctor my own LIVE performance, and asked my longtime online friend Sydney Hirsch to create a tomato animation for me. The animation was then overlaid onto a small selection of the actual performance. The end result, like most of my art practice, ends up blurring the line between spontaneous and intentional.
This piece brought up complex feelings for me despite feeling conceptually straightforward. Cue the TikTok audio: “to be a woman is to perform.” This is well-tread territory a la John Berger, “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.” Or Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”
During the LIVE, someone commented “15 years later and she’s still doing the same thing.” Not only does this performance call upon this well-tread territory of woman watching herself being watched and girl online as vessel for adoration and mocking, but my own complicated relationship to continuing to place myself inside of that. I’m not necessarily brave or righteous for dancing on LIVE and subjecting myself to the gaze of online strangers. If anything, I’m obsessive in my need to collect data, to present it, to humiliate myself in the process, both in front of “fans” and strangers.
Something about this performance felt regressive. I felt uncomfortable taking some small pleasure in being looked at. Another part of me was embarrassed at my inability to “age gracefully”—still dancing for the camera 20 years after my first selfie entered the Internet. Wouldn’t it be more tasteful to transition to behind-the-camera or better yet, quit the Internet all-together like Jennicam and become seductive in my shroud of secrecy? Instead, I keep throwing logs on the fire, similar to someone like Trisha Paytas—albeit with a lot less notoriety and money.
Some days I am a girlboss, some days I am a clown. Some days I am a well-regarded artist, other days I am an aging millennial on TikTok. I think I finally understand the sentiment behind Meredith Brooks’ song “Bitch.”
I recently watched an interview with Mike Kelley from 2004. In it, he refers to artists as “professional fools.” This framing of the artist as a fool was instantly comforting for me, even a little aspirational. He goes on to say that most contemporary artists aren’t willing to be fools, “they’re not willing to put themselves on the line in some shared emotional way.” Then the whole conversation devolves into Kelley discussing how much he hates Britpop because it’s about wanting to fuck Kate Moss, but you get the picture.
Your semi-professional fool <3