alice glass is sharing surreal fan art on instagram
We speak to the artists behind the work, and find out from an expert what fandom really means.
Name something more exciting than having a celebrity share your art on Instagram. It’s OK, we’ll wait. Fandom comes in many forms; some people design their own T-shirts, others edit images and position their idols among wild roses or riding on the backs of unicorns, while some write long narrative prose fantasizing about their favorite artists as superheroes or gay lovers. Before the emergence of digital technology, fans made zines by cutting and pasting images and using stencils — xeroxed zines were a huge part of Riot Grrrl fandom — but now, through the proliferation of platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, fans are able to get closer to their idols than ever before.
But even in today’s heightened celebrity culture, there is still a clear divide. When was the last time you saw Kendall Jenner sharing one of the many collages made in her honor? Fandom still exists primarily outside of the celebrity, and while fan forums and Instagram accounts often gain thousands of followers, the person being idolized is rarely present. New Zealander Millie Lovelock is an expert in fandom, having studied One Direction fandom as part of her Master of Arts in English and Linguistics at the University of Otago. She explains, “To experience intimacy with a celebrity there has to be space for narratives to develop, but these narratives also rely upon the illusion of access. Social media is obviously a big player here. When celebs use social media we imagine that we have more access to their lives, when actually they remain as inaccessible as always and still present a curated public self to their fans.”
But what happens when that curated public self opens itself up to fans, and starts interacting with them?
One artist who has made themselves accessible to their thousands of adoring fans is musician Alice Glass. Since cofounding the group Crystal Castles in 2006, Glass has been a cultural icon who is particularly loved by fans of the gothic archetype. In past years, Glass was idolized primarily for her fashion, DGAF attitude, and lyrical skills, but since embarking on a solo career she has come to represent much more than that. Glass is a survivor, having allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of her former musical collaborator, Crystal Castles’ Ethan Kath. In a statement published on her website in October 2017, she wrote, “He controlled everything I did. I wasn’t allowed to have my own phone or my own credit card, he decided who my friends were, read through my private emails, restricted my access to social media, regulated everything I ate.”
Now that Glass has control of her social media accounts, she is living her best life by interacting with her fans on Instagram. And it seems like their connection is just as cathartic for her as it is for her fans. Glass most recently shared five edits with the note, “thank you for all the amazing fan art you guys are so sweet and talented.”
Rhiannon Zanella created one of the five works and originally posted it on her account witch_alice_88. Zanella says she became a fan of Alice Glass in 2015 after discovering Crystal Castles’ “Baptism” video on YouTube. Speaking via email from her home in Sydney, Australia, Zanella says, “I was so in love with her style, energy, and sound that I kept watching it on repeat.” The video is a gothic delight; Glass wears thick black eye makeup, has jet-black hair, and jumps around with a malaised look like she’s the only person in the room. It’s the type of video that teenagers obsess over and attempt to replicate alone in their bedrooms. The next step is to go online, which is where Zanella’s fandom took shape and where she engaged with Alice Glass for the first time.
At first, Glass liked and commented on some of Zanella’s edits, but then one day she reposted one of them to her own page and has since shared others. “Honestly, when Alice shares my art on her Instagram, it makes me feel really fucking special and it makes my day,” writes Zanella. “Like, I’ll just start smiling really big and feel really happy that I have this sort of connection with someone I consider to be my idol… Way back before I even made my fan account, I never ever would have thought Alice would know who I am, let alone be friends with her and have met her. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Zanella interacts with other fans on Instagram, through direct messages and a group chat, where she says some of her closest friends talk almost daily, “about anything and everything.” Her and another fan, who runs the Instagram account fetus_fatale, travelled together earlier this year to see Glass perform in Toronto. After the show they got to meet her and Zanella says, “She treated me like a close friend. She’s really shy but she has the purest heart.”
16-year-old Khima, whose Instagram account, nighttimehunger, contains over 30 edits of Glass, says that “knowing someone that you look up to has not only seen your art but decided they like it so much that they’d want to share it with others is truly such an amazing feeling.” When Glass shared one of Khima’s edits, she says “I remember it making my whole night.”
While Glass is not the first, or only, artist to engage with fans on Instagram – in 2017 Grimes created an Instagram account to share fan art, and Bronx rapper Princess Nokia frequently shares fan-made illustrations on her personal account – her interest in what her fans are creating shows just how much the support means to her. And it proves that fandom can go in both directions; Glass is a fan of her fans. It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that.