New
Museum
Online Exhibition

IT IS, I, ANN HIRSCH: horny lil feminist

NEW WORK BY ANN HIRSCH

06/05/15

In 1978, feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin commented that “no woman needs intercourse; few women escape it.”

Cover Image:

Ann Hirsch, ButterFace from “horny lil feminist,” 2014­­–15 (still). Video, sound, color; 2:21 min. Courtesy the artist

“Please be advised: This exhibition contains videos with explicit sexual content.”

Dworkin’s viewpoint is consistently marked by refusal and withdrawal, particularly in relation to more sex-positive and arguably more livable philosophies. And yet, her condemnation of intercourse and, by extension, heteronormative gender definitions can nag at aspiring feminists seeking to define their own path in the face of desire’s true complexity. Ann Hirsch’s “horny lil feminist” (2014–15) eschews the notion that desire necessarily hews to our political and personal ideals and rather interrogates how it is formed out of the often unjust—sometimes oppressive, sometimes progressive—power dynamics of our daily lives.

An artist noted for her thoughtful and fresh take on feminist issues, Hirsch creates installation, performance, and online works that often examine sites of female agency within the media. Her previous works have involved her recreating a cyber–love affair she had as a teen with an older man in a piece that was made available both as an e-book transcription of all their AOL chats and a live performance (the e-book version was made available on iTunes and was subsequently kicked off, as it was deemed “crude and objectionable”). Hirsch’s other works have included YouTube performances as a character called Scandalishious that rip what is popularly known as the “camwhore” aesthetic, whereby a girl titillates her anonymous online viewers through performances for her computer’s built-in camera.

In her latest project, “horny lil feminist,” presented as part of First Look, Hirsch traverses a huge expanse of the web that is often not spoken about in the field of net art: pornography. The dozens of videos that comprise the website playfully explore how—or if—one can be a good feminist while still enjoying this genre, which often takes the dynamics of male mastery and female submission (that any card-carrying feminist would disapprove of) as a given. In bad feminist, for example, Hirsch faint-heartedly chants “I’m a feminist” repeatedly over a video of two bound young girls having sex with an aggressor. Many of the videos also reflect her ambivalence about participating in the coquettish, submissive mores that pornography encourages. In ButterFace, for instance, she strips down to her underwear, dancing for the camera, all the while donning a definitively abject brown paper bag on her head. In several clips, Hirsch weaves in references to her own relationship: in yuppie life, she scans the desired items on her wedding registry and, in my love sonnet, she flips through Facebook photographs of her husband-to-be while the self-objectifying, near-holographic chanteuse Lana Del Rey intones “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” (the refrain of her song “Young and Beautiful”).

Perhaps the heart of “horny lil feminist” lies in the videos wherein Hirsch comically sends up seemingly incompatible elements of desire: such as a love story, in which her face is sandwiched in the middle of a three-channel spread between a classic clip of a coquettish Ginger Rogers being wooed by a chivalrous Fred Astaire and another clip of a ball-gagged naked woman in heels descending the staircase of a luxury apartment on the command of an off-camera top—both reflective of two very different kinds of female deference, though the former is certainly more socially accepted; or, in her numerous videos that focus on self-pleasure, whether mimicking the YouTube how-to format or copping an air of feminist separatism—for example, as seen in the heavily warp-filtered dance party…just us girls!!. Each gesture in each clip, however comic or plainly vulnerable, is a refusal to oversimplify female desire and an expression of pleasure’s vastness and complexity. In some moments, pleasure is depicted as liberated from cliché; in others, it explicitly negotiates the endless stereotypes and patterns of power through which we come to know ourselves. In the end, “horny lil feminist” reflects less the clear lines of Dworkin’s stance and more the “cruel optimism” writer Lauren Berlant recently proposed, a term that acknowledges our addiction to relationships that may, ultimately, hurt us and yet which we are unable to fully abandon.

“IT IS, I, ANN HIRSCH: horny lil feminist” is copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look: New Art Online.

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Sponsors

Major support for First Look is provided by the Neeson/Edlis Artist Commissions Fund.
Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

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