I was born in the same year as Nandi Loaf and Amanda Horowitz, the two artists in the show "I <3 My Emergency,” at Springsteen through Nov. 21, so we probably all started going on the internet around the same young age. In their practices, Loaf and Horowitz both obsessively own and explore—or collapse—the way that identity and reality are informed by the internet and technology, and the way these things are at different points (or all at once) selective, egoistic, vulnerable, and gendered experiences.
In the show, New York-based Loaf presents part of her "Slipknot Collection"—an ongoing fan-art project consisting of videos, drawings, handmade masks, and appropriated materials all pertaining to the masked, nu-metal band. Her Instagram handle (@nandi_loaf) is written on nearly all of her work or is tacked onto the end of her videos, acting like a watermark or signature. One drawing on notebook paper, which Loaf drew in middle school, features singer Corey Taylor surrounded by stylized red ballpoint-pen flames, along with versions of the Slipknot and Korn logos and middle school marginalia that says "shutthefuckup" and "I'm not angry I am upset." This drawing, kind of a relic, is framed, and her other drawings in the show, which were done more recently, seem modeled off it. Two of those more recent drawings depict individual members of Slipknot, and another features Paul Gray in his pig mask, GG Allin, and Ol' Dirty Bastard among lyrics to Slipknot's 'Til We Die'—sort of a memorial to fallen icons, as all three of them died of overdoses. These drawings are super well rendered in graphite and colored pencil—one even uses the same flames as the middle school drawing—and encased in Plexiglas. They illustrate both the progression of her technical skill and this notion of the manic artist who never lets go of an idea, or a subject, or a concept.
A whole nook in the gallery is devoted to Loaf's collection of fan art and memorabilia, and it's like a sanctuary. One corner features three Slipknot masks, two of which are handmade with duct tape and nails, while the one in the middle looks possibly factory-made out of latex or rubber. There's a store-bought flag with the band members printed on it hanging on the wall above the masks. Also in this room are a couple of televisions: One plays a slide show of snapshots of Loaf's handmade masks, while the other plays a loop of her YouTube tutorials for how to make different Slipknot masks. One mask that's mentioned in a video is on display in the gallery's main room, held up on a metal pipe screwed into the floor; the mask is lovingly hand-stitched from a T-shirt. "Hopefully someone will buy it and finish it," she says in the video.
This is all just a portion of the full collection of her fan art, the other parts of which we are probably missing out on, even if we obediently follow her on YouTube and Instagram. She's prolific but she's bored; she doesn't give a fuck but she begs for followers, she puts in the time to make and upload these videos for you. Her aggressive reminders to follow her on social media are cogent takedowns of the idea of "self-branding"—so all of this fandom loops back around as fandom for Nandi Loaf as she performs herself: the unapologetic but apathetic art star.
Fleshing out the main space of the storefront gallery are Baltimore-based Horowitz's sculptures which are referred to in the gallery statement as "a multifaceted hyperobject of her experiences of 9/11." The specific allusions to 9/11 are somewhat hidden under her use of imagery and text, though certain details echo a general sentiment of disaster, war, and youth and the ways these things intersect with the experiences of an archetypal young girl.
In her wall-based text pieces, 'The Opera's Chorus,' comic-book-like white boxes contain lines of text where some Big Brother type of speaker addresses a "young girl" to convey the tragedy as something unknowable, especially at a young age: "We want you as nine/ Screaming as nine/ You have no idea why the crashes happened/ You can't see a pyramids peak/ You can't take joke/ Because you're a safety patrol guard on duty from 250 pm to 310/ But this Tuesday you're not." The piece mirrors the confusion that kids felt (myself included) during 9/11, but also recalls the talk about the "innocence" that we "lost" when we learned about what happened. For some of us, our schools tried to bolster and protect us with patriotism; we were malleable.
Two felted muppet-like pieces also sit in the space: 'Rubble Rock,' a yellow lizard-like puppet with tire tread printed on him, is held up by a black, tarred base—it's disconcerting, but less so than the other puppet, 'Girls We Like,' a small purple puppet girl lying on the floor in a white dress, whose closed eyes, nostrils, and inside of her mouth are beaded. Her mouth is also stuffed with socks.
Another sculpture, 'E-racer Girl,' is a wood cut-out silhouette of a young girl, hinged at the top like a sandwich board. Always an object, the girl here is featureless but covered in montaged/collaged imagery of deserts, a map of the coast of the Gold Coast of Australia, rubble, eagles, and safari animals. The decoupaged imagery is imperfectly pasted on, spilling over the edges. The girl wears a cloak embroidered with little shoe steps (like dance moves); the back of the cloak reads, "Everything a girl can see/ From 9 to 23/ Wow/ Cloak of earthly objects/ Defy a thing to be."
That these sculptures feel fragmentary is part of the point of calling them "hyperobjects"—the presentation itself feels anxious and incomplete, like it could unfold out into multiple other iterations of form, but it also relates to our interactions with the internet and media, particularly the 24-hour news cycle in times of (Western) crisis.
Horowitz's video piece 'Revenge Poem' however feels more whole (but still full of holes) in its own world. In the video, a dramatic dialogue of sorts takes place between a female character (performed by the artist) and a 3-D-animated regular-looking guy. Interspersed into the piece are images of anthropomorphized dragon-girl drawings, news clips relating to 9/11, and a clip from Katamari Damacy—the imperialistic game where you control this creature that rolls around and picks up objects, starting with the smallest ones, and then grows bigger. These references call back to that 9-year-old self in Horowitz's other work attempting to make sense of tragedy or to convey the overwhelming feeling of it; kids are supposed to remain naive, innocent, fragile for as long as possible—girls especially.
On stage, she wears a beige dress, printed with quotes from Susan Sontag, Hélène Cixous, Ariana Reines (whose poem is the basis for this show's title), and other notable female writers. She's on stage—on a soapbox—for most of her portion of it, and it feels like a TED Talk in the beginning, when she begins: "Feeling trapped? Become a porn star. Embrace a journey laden in cum." In the second scene, the animated guy stands in a girl's bedroom, talking about himself and this archetypal female ("I pasted a picture of your last life, past life/ You means nothing when I get a pass on your ass"). Conventional language logic decays throughout, but especially so near the middle, and the poem becomes a difficult jumble of words to parse before it circles back around and addresses the disgusting internet phenomenon of revenge porn: "I want to empathize with this boy, wrap my head around his motivation, turning his abuse into something substantial and greater than the senseless act, raising up its importance not as victim or perpetrator but as the forces that cast us in this technological projection."
The woman in 'Revenge Poem' is constantly conflicted; she has little agency or control over her own voice or identity, which constantly breaks down and changes based on the text and who's speaking it. Because even amid all of this technology she exists under patriarchal rules. When I talk about this piece I feel hyperaware of the way I describe the speaker, who alternates between first and second person—so my interpretations are projections that further abstract who exactly the subject is.
I typed in the URL to my DeviantArt—the online art community which is saturated with fan art, among other things—recently, and after many years of silence, someone had left a comment on my page, asking if I was still around and telling me that she missed me. I had no memory of who she was, but I guess I knew her through the site when I was 11. It was a strange look at a past stage of identity, frozen there. Loaf and Horowitz both volley the "self" in their work, showing that with the internet and digital technology, "self" becomes more flexible than it is in our real lives, though it mimes and affects our real lives.