For her most recent performance, “Playground,” the artist staged an uneasy situation. Hirsch’s play—which made its debut at the New Museum in New York this Fall—was inspired by her own experience of meeting an older man in an AOL chat room when she was twelve. “We would have cyber sex and phone sex and we were, like, boyfriend and girlfriend.” In a way, re-creating the scenario was a therapeutic exercise in confronting a private affair.
“My work has always been sexual, and about sexuality and gender,” she says. “The way I think about my work is I make work about things I’m ashamed about. So all the pieces stem from all the things I feel shame about in my life, or ashamed about doing.” She was surprised that many women approached her after the performance, confiding that they too had been through similar experiences as pre-teens. “In my mind it had always been this dark shameful secret that I had, and never told a soul…[but] of course we all experienced this, it makes so much sense! But I had always felt like such a freak about it.”
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Hirsch says that she was “an insanely neurotic, anxious child,” and as a result her parents sent her to a therapist, who she met with from ages eight to twelve. “That’s when I really started making art,” Hirsch says. “I would just be in her office and I would draw and draw and draw. By the end of the four years I had amassed hundreds of thousands of drawings. That’s when I became an artist.”
It seems that Hirsch is seldom shy to confront uncomfortable topics for her art, placing herself in situations completely outside of herself. A prime example is one that many may recognize Hirsch from: reality TV, where she used a trashy VH1 dating show as a platform for art and research. Prior to her TV stint, she amassed nearly two million views on YouTube for her provocative video series “Scandalishious,” where she posed as overtly sexual undergrad Caroline. Visit Caroline’s website and you’ll find a feminist movie review of the Sex and the City movie as well as art; like bags full of urine for “The Pee Project,” and a photo of a doll clinging to an air conditioner for “Fly me away.”
Asked how far she will go for art, Hirsch explains, “I think when you’re exploring issues that test what you believe in [or] what your morals are, it can be hard not to lose yourself. I mean, the whole point of the process [of art] is about figuring out who you are, and I use my art to test [and] stretch my limits of what it is I believe.”
There are moments, however, when she holds back. “When I started making private videos for sale, I wanted to push my own sense of what it means to be a ‘respectable person and woman’ but I ended up just being really scared that someone was going to come and stalk and kill me. I don’t believe that now, but at the time I was just so engrossed [and] involved in my Internet world that all the threats and mean comments, everything felt so real to me…
“When you get really into a project as an artist, you just think ‘This is art, everything comes after the art. And I’m going to do everything I can to make this art the best art.’ But that’s not always a healthy reality to live in.”