New York-based artist Ann Hirsch is best known for her performance and new media pieces exploring pop culture, gender and sexuality in the digital age. Works of Hirsch’s include Scandalishious (2008-09), in which the artist performed as Caroline, a YouTube “camwhore” whose channel has garnered nearly 2 million views, and A Basement Affair (2010), where Hirsch was a contestant on a VH1 reality TV dating contest. More recently, Hirsch released Twelve (2013), an e-book centered on her pre-teen experiences in an online chat room during the ’90s. Banned by iTunes for explicit content (the text details a romantic relationship between a 12-year-old and a suitor more than twice that age), Twelve is now available through New York’s Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery as an edition, in the form of a jailbroken iPad Mini with the e-book and the artist’s laser-engraved signature.
Hirsch had her debut solo this spring with “Muffy” (through June 26), the inaugural exhibition at Brooklyn’s American Medium. The exhibition closes this Friday with an evening of performance featuring critic Brian Droitcour and artists Nate Hill and Nathaniel Sullivan. Hirsch’s work is also on view in the Klaus von Nichtssagend group show “Daughter of Bad Girls” (through July 26), which revisits the historic 1994 New Museum exhibition “Bad Girls,” by way of its modern heiresses.
“Muffy” is about adolescent and childhood sexuality. The works come out of my own early sexual thoughts, feelings and inclinations, which were greatly influenced by pop culture, the Internet, my home life and my dreams. A large part of the show is about my pre-pubescent life exploring the chat room scene in the late ’90s. It ended up being a very dramatic experience, because the Internet, contrary to popular belief, is actually a really emotional place. Interacting with people online heightens emotions in ways that real life interactions don’t. So much of the translation of my work to the gallery space was about translating that emotion you feel when you’re really caught up with something online, just projecting everything onto it, enjoying the mystery and intrigue it brings into your life and the total anger and horror you feel when things don’t go your way. When you get trolled or get caught up in some crazy comment thread, it can feel way shittier than someone being aggro to your face. I wanted to show that sense of vulnerability and insanity, romance and sadness.
I mainly went on the Internet at that age to learn about sex, which I knew absolutely nothing about and yet was completely fascinated by. The drawings in the show come from that place. They’re very surrealistic, because sex at that age is like a dream. There’s all these things in your life that clue you in to what sex is but the image is hazy. You’re piecing things together from TV, things you overhear your parents talk about, the Internet and the likewise limited knowledge of your friends to form some kind of picture, but it just comes out jumbled and bizarre.
Pop culture was also a huge influence on my thinking about sex. One piece in the show is called Slave 4 U/My Spank Bank (2014). On the outside it looks like a child’s fort, but inside it’s filled with clips from movies that I found titillating as a kid. I had a second cousin who would babysit us and make forts with us. She called the fort a “tushy palace.” I liked the feeling that I could hide, be inside my head and think my crazy kid thoughts but still see outside. I could be a voyeur. I put the movie clips in the fort to simulate me consuming this media and internalizing these weird psychosexual thoughts that I didn’t understand, and, as a result, becoming anxious and unable to interact with the world. (continued below)
All of the movie clips include some kind of soft sexual domination of women. The most famous clip is probably the scene of Princess Leia in the gold bikini from Star Wars. She comes in like a badass, trying to save Han Solo, but she gets caught. As punishment she becomes Jabba the Hutt’s sex slave, basically. She’s been a very strong woman throughout the movies, but then undergoes a violent sexualization.
As a kid, I found that scene and the other scenes I included in the fort very arousing, but I didn’t know why. As an adult looking back, it’s like, “Whoa, we’re putting this stuff into family and mainstream movies?” All that pop culture imagery eroticizing the domination of women totally affects how adult sexuality has formed. I can say, “That’s not feminist, that’s wrong,” but at the same time I find it arousing. It’s part of my life, part of my psyche, and I can’t completely distance myself from it.
I’d like to continue making work about how the domination of women and sexuality is continually connected within culture. I’m moving to Los Angeles soon, and I really want to do stuff around the porn industry there. I do a performance piece where I show porn videos and make sounds for them live. It starts out as funny, typical porn, and as it progresses it gets more intense-it ends with a violent gang bang scene. Everyone laughs at the start, but by the end people leave. They can’t watch. I see myself doing more performances about porn. It’s such a taboo-no one wants to go there, no one wants to talk about it. Jeff Koons does, I guess, and it’s such a joke when he does it. Porn’s so prevalent and it’s affecting everyone, but no one wants to talk about how. People have the feeling that whatever your sexual pleasures are, that’s fine and that’s you. I think because of that we let a lot get by that shouldn’t get by.
—As told to Matthew Shen Goodman.