Interview: Meg Mosley aka Megastar

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I remember what it was like to talk face-to-face and call a boy at their mum’s house,” says artist Meg Mosley, “and not Snapchat, Tweet, Facebook them – or care if I took a good selfie!” Mosley is thankful she missed growing up with the Internet, she says, “I had already had a private and geeky teenage(hood), forging my identity without the invasion of social media.” And now at 35-years old, she has found herself wrapped up in her persona Megastar. Channelling her creativity through the “Internet mermaid,” the identity is commonly – and ironically – captured in the form of a selfie.

Last year, Megastar toured with Selfridges, for their beauty campaign #BeautyProject, developed Megastar Mega Selfie Museum Dress-Up app commissioned by the Windsor Museum. She also had her selfies featured at the National Portrait Gallery, as part of the event ‘What Makes a Good Selfie: The Curated Ego.’ Mosley’s newest work is called ‘selfie-facing’ and “is a portrait of Megastar made up of hundreds and hundreds of all the selfies Megastar has taken.” The piece is part of the show, ‘Saving Changes at Stour Place,’ until June 1.

After years of expressing her views through her brand Megastar, Mosley has teamed up with Dr James Kilner, Head of Neuroscience at UCL, to further explore the psychology behind the selfie (#StayTuned). First up, she analyses Kim Kardashian and commends her work, “she’s turned the selfie into a multimillion dollar business.”

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“Selfie-Facing”

How did your persona Megastar first start?

Megastar came into my imagination just when I needed her. Life was dreary – relationship breakup, small town tedium, weird studio flat, you get the picture – so I packed a gold bikini, booked into the Golden Nugget hotel in Las Vegas, with a head full of girly pop and bang: Megastar was born.

I know Megastar is a natural extension of you, but how is she different from you?

Megastar is an Internet mermaid so her identity is fluid. I have an academic background, [a BA from Middlesex University] and a MA [from Slade School of Art], so I’ve been trained to think about culture and context. She’s a mixture of my observations and background, and who I might have become if I hadn’t been trained to question things.

What were you like as a child growing up in Trowbridge – did you dress up a lot or have a persona as a child?

I wanted to be a boy. I wore swimming trunks to school swimming lessons. I asked for a wedge haircut and boys spectacles with the bar across the top. I wore my brothers old school uniform to school. I was a massive tomboy, as I looked up to my older brother and sporty Dad. I didn’t like my younger, girly sister at the time and thought her Barbies were boring. I’ve always wanted the best that’s going in life and as far as I could see at that age, boys had more fun; better games, cooler swag and I wanted in!

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Megastar Las Vegas

You have created a documentary about your grandmother, Gogs, and her generation. Your mother has also been influential in your artistic practices. What do you think are some of the main differences between your grandmother and mother’s generations versus your generations and future generations?

I think my grandmother’s generation had less freedom in the roles they could create for themselves as women – men nabbed all the dominant roles. My grandmother was unusual and fought against this, as she was an entrepreneur and started one of the first beauty schools in London. She was driven to create the glamour she saw in the movies and to make life beautiful and fun. Simple as that.

I feel my mum’s generation got a bit more freedom; it was ok to be a career woman. However, they were racked with guilt about this decision because it conflicted with the traditional roles of being a mother. My mum was a driven lady too; she became and remains famous within the education world for her work on self-esteem. In her early career, she wrote book called She Who Dares Wins, but later wrote one called When I Go To Work I Feel Guilty – I think that says it all!

I think my generation is an odd one, I am 35, and so I have not grown up with the Internet – unlike the younger generation whose identity is embedded or created by it. I received the Internet around the time I was in my early 20’s. So, I had already had a private and geeky teenage(hood), forging my identity without the invasion of social media. We didn’t really take photos very often. I remember what it was like to talk face-to-face and call a boy at their mum’s house, and not Snapchat, Tweet, Facebook them – or care if I took a good selfie! Today, I see the unusual uses of the Internet, and I have good self-esteem to be playful with it, to use it as a digital native where identity can be fluid and creative.

Meg and Grandmother
Meg and Grandmother

If you could travel back in time, what time period would you choose to live in?

I think I could have been a very successful silent film actress! I have a very expressive face, cultivated from taking one million selfies. I’ll go back to 1920’s and be Clara Bow! Although, I don’t think I’d enjoy the male dominated industry then; just an exciting time for film!

Last year you went on tour with Selfridges, where you posed with the public for selfies in your Megastar persona for the beauty campaign #BeautyProject. How did people react to your persona?

People loved my persona. As Megastar develops, she’s becoming nicer! I started out having her think she was the best and she was a little bitchy. I genuinely really like people, so I didn’t like doing that with people I met in my public role. It was an interesting experience in being your own brand. You had to endear yourself to people or fail! Now Megastar can be seen just as self-indulgent and narcissistic, but in a joyful carefree way. She’s a product of her time.

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Instagram Art

You are part of a show at Stour Space (May 2015), which is all about identity; I am assuming Megastar works will be presented. Can you tell me more about the work in this show?

I have a new piece in Stour Place called ‘selfie-facing’. It’s a play on ‘self-effacing’ (meaning coy and shy) and in opposition to this, Megastar welcomes all that attention – so it’s a portrait of Megastar made up of hundreds and hundreds of all the selfies Megastar has taken.

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You are collaborating with Dr James Kilner, Head of Neuroscience at UCL, on the science of selfies. Can you share some of your findings so far – what science is there behind the selfie?

This is all very new. Dr Kilner has been looking into facial recognition and the ageing process – basically how we see ourselves and how we recognise our own faces. Selfies are interesting as they are so edited. We take loads, we edit which ones we ‘see’ as how we look and we then share on social networks for endorsements by others this is how we look. It’s interesting from both a psychological and scientific perspective.

Can you tell me more what you will be presenting for the science of selfies? 

We are working on a proposal at the moment together.

No longer purely emotion driven, how has your work changed now that you know the science behind the selfie?

For over three years, (I have) driven my work emotionally, and I feel very ready to reflect on my experiences and viewpoints. However, I probably won’t stop taking selfies as I have become extremely good at them.  #SelfieQueen

Selfies (Collection exhibited in National Portrait Gallery)
Selfies (Collection exhibited in National Portrait Gallery)

What are your thoughts on Kim Kardashian’s selfie book Selfish

Wow, what do I think of Kim Kardashian, Queen of the selfies!? It’s interesting, she’s commodified the selfie into a book, taking a modern phenomenon that exists in social media platforms, digitally, and having it printed in a way that recognises it as art. It’s hard to take the vanity people chastise her for seriously, she’s a business woman and her selfie is her currency. People may think of her as a vain woman, as if she’s not clued up to what she’s doing – whereas I think, ‘Wow, look how she’s turned ‘the selfie’ into a multimillion dollar business!’ I veer between wondering ‘What the hell is going on in her head?’ and ‘Is she prostituting herself?’, to feeling she’s in control and enjoying her beauty. I personally think Kim Kardashian’s finest work is her parodying herself in the super bowl ad, where her work meets humour, culture and context – my fave!

It feels like some people are trying to take a stand against the selfie. The ecommerce site Farfetch recently launched their UNFOLLOW campaign, where people turn their backs to the camera and their friends take a photo. Are you supportive of the selfie or is your work really just making fun of that social media culture?

I both champion the selfie as a creative expression – after all, some of our revered artists like Freda Kahlo were basically the first Selfie-Queens – and I also think it’s hilarious and self indulgent and futile. I am also aware that once big corporate companies jump onto an idea culture has probably already moved on. The commercial corporate world always come to things like this last and now selfie sticks are being banned from Wimbledon and music festivals. I don’t mind selfies dying – I’ll offer a new service, the selfie funeral or tomb stones for smart phones.

My Mother's Garden
My Mother’s Garden

Can you tell me more about your work outside of your Megastar persona?

I’m very interested in identity and our desire to belong. Social media is one way we manifest identity production and I explore this with Megastar, but I’m very interested in the other social and emotional ways we form attachment.

Family has always fascinated me and after the work with my grandmother I looked at my relationship with my mother. I created a series of photographs called ‘My Mother’s Garden’ where I created props and a scene in my Mum’s garden representative of the parties she throws. I dressed us in her clothes and style. In these images I was influenced by ‘Grey Gardens,’ a documentary made in 1975 about the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived together into old age. I was living and working for my own eccentric Mum and I think I saw that being one way my life could go!

I also created a series called ‘Muse’ where I explore the representation of women in art throughout history. In ‘Muse’ I reference the romanticism of love and death in poetry and symbolism of The Pre-Raphaelites. It accompanies a poem written in memory of my own muse, my grandmother Veronica.

What are you currently working on? 

I’m currently working on a series called ‘Me!Me!’ looking at the ‘meme’. A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. In my work ‘Me!’Me!’ I rework popular hashtags and memes. I turn #IWokeUpLikeThis into #IBrokeUpLikeThis and feature myself crying! I also create Internet poetry and I write about life and love in text speak! I wrote one poem about the phenomenon of the ‘toilet selfies!’

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Megastar

INTERVIEW: Janine Leah Bartels
ILLUSTRATION: Christy McCormick

www.megmosley.co.uk | @meggymosley

Images courtesy of Meg Mosley