Real Girlfriend is a performance-based body of work. Conceived in AR, the videos satirize existing female archetypes created from the male gaze, representing an amalgam of women from the virtual canon.
Various avatars in the likeness of the artist are encapsulated within the bounds of a device, at-the-ready. Their implied immediacy is countered by intangibility, contradicting their role as desirable, emotional surrogates. In creation, the artist embeds personality flaws, vices, or imperfections in each to query a typical fantasy commodified by culture.
︎Purchase the series on Foundation
︎View criticism by Outland Art
︎Featured in She/Her curated by ONBD
︎Read about the space on Art in America
︎See the mention in Jing Culture
Special Thanks to
Moriah Rodriguez, Rad Mora, Leslie Chang, Alex Darby, Elisabeth Johs, Daniel Grushkin, and Victoria Stapley-Brown
Huozhu, Real Girlfriend (Day & Night)
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‘Domesticada’ at JO-HS, Mexico City 2022
Curated by Elisabeth Johs
Pearlyn Lii, “Huozhu, Real Girlfriend” 2021; documented by Nico Croes, courtesy of nonstudio, New York.
Collected by Michael Brown of Speaklow NYC
Huozhu, Real Girlfriend & Lanhuo, Real Girlfriend
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‘From Keith Haring to the Screen Generation,’ in The Hamptons 2021
Curated by Ludovica Capobianco
Pearlyn Lii, “Real Girlfriend” 2021; documented by Geir Magnusson
In 2020, Pearlyn was kindly invited by Foundation to be one of the first 24 artists to launch the 2.0 version of their platform. This is when she first launched ‘Real Girlfriend.’
Reproduced from TheArtGorgeous, Issue 9 feat. Jeremyville
PEARLYN LII IS EXPLORING FEMALE ARCHETYPES THROUGH DIGITAL MEDIA BY LIZZY VARTANIAN COLLIER
You’re taking on a performative role of a digital female character in much of your new work. What is that experience like?
Like inhabiting an endless set of identities, faces, people. It’s pulling out various parts of my personal identity that I didn’t know existed. I treat each new piece like a charette. I start with a simple thought for each character, or “Girlfriend.” I think about her backstory. I layer her with quirks or qualities that deepen her complexity, then let her naturally unfold when I embody her. Because even though she is digital and seemingly pristine, she wants to be human, imperfect. It comes from my love of creating Sims a decade ago. Every strength of a Girlfriend is met with a direct or indirect flaw. When I’m ready and feel like I understand her, I put on her outfit, turn on my laptop camera, and pretend to livestream to sink into character. I like to work naturally—start with light improv then move into refining nuanced expressions.
Can you tell us a bit about the individual personalities of your
Though they were born from my brain, they’ve become presences of their own. Gengzi, or Metal Rat, is a dodgy, self-interested virtual psychic who feels like she’s experiencing a renaissance of her own and is happy about that. She doesn’t regard what others think of her practice. On the other extreme, you’ve got the charismatic and sensitive Lanhuo, or Blue Flame, who sells AR-wearable jewelry and is beloved by her vast buyer base—to the point where her fans have developed a parasocial relationship to her.
Who are the buyers of the series? Do women buy them too?
Oh, absolutely. My pieces confront and question, and those who collect them understand that. My earliest collector is Samantha Ayson, who leads creative content on Foundation. Then, not much later, the record label Ghostly International collected one too. Ghostly’s founder Sam Valenti and I were on a Clubhouse talk hosted by Foundation. And in real-time, right after I shared my story, he bids on and eventually collects Syla, Real Girlfriend. I’d say those who’ve collected so far understand my vantage point.
Did you get any romantic messages following the launch of the
Ha, I did. But before the pieces were released. Interestingly enough, the original short AR film I made that inspired the RG series was born out of receiving a message from a past lover. I hadn’t heard from him in six years until he private messaged me the moment I redownloaded Snapchat (for research). I couldn’t really function for the rest of the day. But it was incredible, because I ended up writing this into the short where I inhabit the role of a digital TechDomme who live streams to her various clients. Then midway through, a former client/ ex-lover of the Girlfriend appears in her chat on her stream. To her surprise, his presence breaks her dominant persona, and the viewer experiences her fragility.
Can you tell us about the Chinese zodiac editions of the
They were born out of a time of violence. I was afraid to go grocery shopping, so I looked inward and asked myself why. This drew me closer to my roots, and their importanc to my being today. As a kid, I remember clenching my teeth when I was forced by angry after-school proctors to recite the Chinese zodiac, and after years of working toward self-acceptance, I’ve grown fascinated by its lore. The souls of these Girlfriends embody the characteristics of zodiac creatures whose elements, energies, and seasons inform their stories.
And speaking about the Girlfriends, we’d also love to know what
exactly was your first NFT and how it came about?
Pearl, Real Girlfriend was my first NFT, but it’s now lost in the ether space. I created it back in September 2020 when I was part of Foundation’s initial launch of 25 artists on the platform, and now that they’ve up-versioned to what it is today, I’m not sure where it is. It’s one, I recall, that resembles me closely. That said, I really dig the transience of my pieces, so not knowing where the piece now lives (beyond my own machine, that is) is very interesting to me. I may make a new version.
What kinds of ways do you think artists will be using new media
in the future?
The stories told overtime that keep are ones that resonate with the human experience. In terms of the medium itself, perhaps it may evolve to the point where IRL and URL become one. To speak to the now, I am an avid video gamer, often immersing myself in the digital world. Maintaining an avatar and the transience of an avatar fascinates me. That was my inspiration to mint the Girlfriends as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, where collectors can own fractional shares on a Girlfriend. That makes her transient.