Erma Fiend‘s videos aren’t pretty—but you can’t take your eyes off of them. Whether she’s eating cockroaches, adding three extra fingers, or slicing off her own head, the Queens-based artist uses her body to challenge perception. Through her endless loops, Fiend explores sexuality and femininity, her manipulation of the human form serving as a serious fuck you to the traditional male gaze. In her latest series, exclusively for BULLETT, Fiend touches on the monotony of routine, and the ways in which we perform expression. With her off-putting yet infatuating GIFs, the 31-year-old creates her own alternate reality—one in which faces explode and you’re the ruler of your own identity.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk physics, feminism and “Frankensteining” herself. View the exclusive series and read our interview, below.
How did you decide to start working with GIFs?
Part of why I’m interested in doing gif work is the closed loop—that allows an oscillation between dynamics. So, you have a certain amount of energy within one environment that doesn’t have any breaks in it—sort of like a Möbius strip, like time folded in on itself. I’m also interested in the destruction of femininity and identity—forms of humanity that can morph and destruct as part of a closed loop, where they just displace energy and it’s not an A to B construction, they just sort of pulse around. It’s sort of breaking down the building blocks of each frame, and Frankensteining them together to create a new universe, where there’s a cause and effect, push and pull, and applying that to the idea that femininity isn’t a fixed shape in time—it’s something that’s constructed, and changes shape.
How do you explore those themes?
I’m interested in being out in my work, and the tension around that. But I also like playing with conventional performances of femininity, and bringing it into the same world. I think a lot about the different points in time where we present in certain ways, and being able to look at all those points at once, and what it looks like to have them as a closed sense of self, that is not fixed in a particular frame. And I really like doing self-portraits.
Most of your pieces are self-portraits. Why?
A lot of that is for practical reasons, and to have the flexibility to improv ideas. But with this particular process, I just really like the idea that with stop motion, in general, you’re creating your own laws of physics and you’re able to portray objects and people as moving with different properties than they actually do in reality.
In a way, you’re making fun of art in that you traditionally have all these men manipulating women’s bodies—whether through direction, or airbrushing, or whatever. But in your work, you’re not only manipulating yourself—you’re manipulating it in a way where the end result is grotesque or surrealist.
It’s harder to find examples where art that explores femininity has the agency to be able to play with it on their own terms, and to build upon what we recognize as conventional femininity—not to necessarily move away from it, but to really use it, and break down what it means.
Does this medium allow you to express yourself in a way others don’t?
This was really the fastest way for me to get into taking a concept and running with it. As much as I get hyper-focused and will spend hours at a time working on something without realizing it, I have a really short attention span regarding the concept. So I really want to be able to see the end point of it.
Like I said, a lot of your GIFs have horror-movie element to them. Where does that come from?
So much of what intrigues me about the horror genre, is that it’s based on bringing out our fears, but it’s usually done from a particular perspective. And while sexualized women are very prominent in that, it’s usually not from their own perspective, even though they’re the subjects—it’s like the illusion of being from their perspective. So I’m just trying to explore the horror of being the subject, or the tension between being the subject and the object—not knowing where one begins and the other ends.
Do you consider your work overtly feminist?
My experience of reality is shaped by my experience of being read as feminine, and also being gay—trying to grapple with the idea of what agency I have over that, and how I move through the world and the assumptions that have affected the way I do it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I should be, and I think a lot of my work comes out of that. And I’m kind of a troll by nature, so any opportunity to do say, “Oh you want to look at something sexy? You’re going to have to look at it on my terms.’
I first came across your work when I saw the video you made where you’re naked, sort of pulling yourself in a circle. It immediately interested me because I’m always fascinated when a woman can present nudity in a non-sexual way. Since women’s bodies have been inherently sexualized, it’s so hard to show the female body without that immediate connotation. Your work presents femininity in a way that’s analytical, instead.
I definitely like the idea of using the expectation of aesthetics and what’s conventionally sexy. But at the same time, just because something is sexual, doesn’t mean it can’t have depth beyond that.
You share a lot of your work on Instagram. And also, you’re in a unique position because you make GIFs—so your medium itself, is a function of the internet. What role has Instagram played in shaping what you create? And what happens when your work’s deleted—when it can’t exist in the space it’s supposed to?
People construct their identity online in different ways, and when people make ruptures in the expectations or rules of what we’re supposed to be seeing—that’s a lot of times when things become censored. But I just appreciate having a space to interject my own vision of how I want to see myself, and how I want to be seen.
What do you want people to take away from your art?
To be able to see an interplay between elements in a space that might not have seemed connected, in an abstract way. The visceral discomfort of seeing things disrupt but then come back together, and the tension of that—you can really see the constants and understand how destruction is just a form of change.