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Arts / Internet / Social media

Crochet artist Lace in the Moon’s latest installation aims to evoke nostalgia through early internet icons

Nicole Nikolich's forthcoming work, to be displayed in PHL's Terminal E, features crochet pieces of early internet icons including MySpace Tom, error signs, the Internet Explorer icon and her first cell phone.

Nicole Nikolich with one of her crochet pieces. (Courtesy photo)
Do you remember MySpace Tom?

Truthfully, this Gen Z reporter was not familiar until a few days ago. But for many people of a certain (millennial) age, the name evokes strong feelings of nostalgia.

That’s the assumption¬†of Nicole Nikolich, the crochet artist behind Lace in the Moon. She’s preparing an installation focused on early internet icons that will be displayed in Terminal E at Philadelphia International Airport for six months starting in early June.

“I really liked this idea of taking this really old craft, crocheting, using a material that’s extremely old, yarn, and juxtaposing it with new technology,” she said. “I just think the idea of using those two mediums is really cool and new and fresh.”

One of Nicole Nikolich’s tech icon pieces. (Courtesy photo.)

The artist said she’s recently been reflecting on how as a young person in the ’90s, she used the internet for escapism — it offered a kind of freedom when she wasn’t old enough to go places or do things alone. As she works through issues from her childhood now in therapy, she said it’s healing to create work focused on the earlier days of the social internet.

One of Nikolich’s core memories of this phase of the web was the site Neopets, where kids could take care of and play games with digital creatures. The site also had a message board where users could talk to each other. It was the first chat room she participated in before platforms like AIM and AOL instant messenger became popular.

She’s found that she romanticizes a lot of her early memories of the internet — but oftentimes, such memories are not as happy as one remembers them.

“This whole idea is about recreating some iconic images, whether it’s old icons on the desktop or the very first social media, and I’m recreating a bunch of things exactly,” she said. “But then I’m also morphing some of the icons and motifs and making them glitchy. … I’m altering the image to show how our mind can alter things over time.”

One piece of the installation is Nikolich’s version of MySpace’s Top 8 friends feature, which will include one exact version of MySpace Tom. The other seven will be glitchy or distorted to represent the way your mind changes memories over time. Each “friend” will be in a vintage frame like you’d see in a museum to represent how old that part of the internet feels, even though it wasn’t that long ago — just 20 years or so.

Some of the MySpace Tom pieces. (Courtesy photo)

Another piece of the installation will be a wall of icons, such as the Internet Explorer icon. Nikolich said she’ll also make a bunch of error signs and a giant version of her first cell phone, a sidekick flip phone. All the icons she chose were significant to her personally, but she also wanted to recreate icons that were recognizable to others.

As a millennial and someone who grew up at the same time the social internet was developing, she’s been thinking about how that experienced shaped her as a person.

“I feel like millennials have this experience on the internet that kind of no one before them or no one after them will have,” she said. “I feel like there’s 20 years of people who were just growing up and finding their more adolescent self while exploring on the Internet.”

One of Nikolich’s internet icon pieces. (Courtesy photo)

When Nikolich thinks of what shaped her as a child, she thinks of sitting in her childhood basement late at night, surfing the web for info or messaging with friends in chat rooms. Early internet icons aren’t seen often anymore in mainstream media, she said, so when you do see them, they bring up a lot of nostalgia.

“I hope that people do a double take and maybe it brings back a memory that they forgot,” she said. “And maybe they feel this nostalgia, whether good or bad. I hope it evokes a feeling.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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