On stepping into the newish Bed-Stuy space of New York’s American Medium gallery for Ann Hirsch’s first solo exhibition Muffy, Britney Spears’ ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ is playing out of a child’s cubby house made of blankets. It’s facing two plush toy teddy bears, touching paws, while screening AOL chat windows out of their bellies and standing next to a large-scale painting reproduction of a crumpled paper ode to adolescent angst and histrionics in ‘My Starving Public 1998’. The teen poem reads “so I am dirty. I am hated. I did lie”, while the breathy high voice of Britney fades out to Hirsch’s in the cubby house as she explains, “I’m already 11-years-old. I peer down at my naked body and my huge bush pulls back and forth beneath the water”.
There are four small screens in the makeshift quilt fort ‘Slave For You/ My Spank Bank’ featuring scenes from Aladdin, Star Wars, Cinderella and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, each with their own references to submission, oppression and exoticism. The viewer is forced to crawl in to watch as Disney’s Jasmine and Jafar, Cinderella and her Ugly Step Sisters, interact between the dunes of George Lucas’ Galactic Empire and the Sheriff of Nottingham’s intended rape of Maid Marian –viewed from beneath and on all fours.
Outside and along the walls are naïve pencil and pastel drawings of a balding and bushy eyebrowed ‘She Devil Jew Lady’ and ‘Truly Exotic’ green-skinned profile of a woman with one tentacled eyeball, while two Hirsch proto-selfies, ‘Photos for jobe #1 & #2 1998’ are obscured by a flash. They’re flanked by more hand-drawn grotesques of ‘Sexy Baby in Repose’ and the three-boobed nude of ‘Reclining Slutty Grandpa’. Meanwhile the AOL chat window projected from the ‘My Big Man’ plushie doll across from it features case insensitive quotes of Nirvana and Matchbox Twenty song lyrics. There’s that, and the puerile online flirtation-via-homophobic slurs between “JoshyWoshy” and “bUrKe13” as everyone ignores ‘Lilac098’’s unassuming “hey every 1”.
“I climb the pole at recess to get this feeling. Does anybody else know what I’m talking about? I’m afraid to ask,” says Hirsch through the speakers of her indoor cubby house. Part of me wonders whether it should be ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet A Woman’ instead of ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ playing at intervals between spoken word excerpts, recreating the charged inconsistency of repressed sexual development in a teen girl. But apart from being a bit of an obvious choice, it would also preclude the role of the desiring body being realised (“I won’t deny it, I’m not trying to hide it”) as well as the wider mythologised margins Muffy nudges to, well beyond binary gender.
All this plays out via the anonymous attention seeking of an online screen name and the blue-penned sketch of a computer in ‘My Starving Public 1998’: “Words fired at me to make me remember. Make me hurt. Make me feel dirty + loathed all over again”. Behold, the direct emotional results of the internet interactions of the Scandalishious artist’s formative years, their consequences being as real but equally as disregarded as a preteen sexual awakening. **