Ann Hirsch, 31, might be a Los Angeles convert these days, but she is a born and bred Baltimorean, attending Krieger Schechter Day School and The Park School. And she’s never gone for too long since her parents, Alan Hirsch (owner of Donna’s Restaurant) and Dina Sokal (a child psychologist), still call the area home.
Hirsch is a performance artist, using digital mediums to expose society’s assumptions around women and sexuality. Hirsch saw early success with a YouTube channel (as “Caroline,” aka “Scandalishious”) in 2008 and as an intentionally kicked-off reality television contestant (“Annie” on VH1’s “Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair”) in 2010.
More recently, she’s made a name for herself (in places like The Guardian and New York Magazine) with an installation at The New Museum in New York called “horny lil feminist,” an exploration of female agency and politics in internet pornography.
How did you get involved in art? What inspired you to make that your career?
Well, I started taking lessons when I was 12. There’s this art teacher — I’m not sure what he’s doing now — his name was Mr. J [Victor Janishefski] and he had this after-school drawing class on York Road. I just loved it. He was such a great teacher. I did that from seventh grade until I graduated high school.
I just really loved art and so for college, I knew I wanted to go to a school that had art. I thought at the time I just wanted it to be a hobby or extracurricular. But when I got in [to the Washington University Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts] and got to art school and tried it, I just loved it. I knew it was something I wanted to continue.
How did the internet and video become your go-to medium?
I think a lot of it was due to the fact that I was in Syracuse [for graduate school], which is a middle-of-nowhere, nothing-there, really miserable place. I wanted to have a bigger audience than just my peers, so I think that inspired my first YouTube project, which ended up getting two million views and going viral. This was in 2008 before people really understood what those things meant.
What was your hope for how the internet and these spaces would turn out versus what actually happened?
When I first started with the YouTube project, I had this idea that YouTube was this new mode of media for women and minorities where in traditional media it’s a small group of people determining how to represent everyone, but in YouTube everyone can represent themselves the way they want to be represented. And that’s how I started with my project — trying to be a person I didn’t normally see in media, a young woman who was weird and funny and also displaying her sexuality.
And I think to a certain extent a lot of that did end up happening. I mean, there’s so much more visibility for the LGBTQ community [and] so many more representations of minorities and women. But, I think a lot of times what ends up happening is that because of “like” culture and “fave” culture, these same certain people who would have been idealized in older forms of media again rise to the top. So, we’re kind of still recycling some of the same tropes and stereotypes.
You’ve had all these different personas in your pieces. Do you prefer to create personas for your art?
I don’t know if I even see them as personas. I just see them all as parts of myself. Everyone acts differently in different scenarios. So, “Caroline” is how I act when I’m on YouTube. “Annie” is how I act when I’m on this VH1 show. They’re all just different sides of myself.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a series of very large nude portraits. I’m also working on writing a musical about academia. It’s about all different aspects of academia and how they interact — the administration, the professors, the dean, the students and how power functions between different systems. I’ve been thinking a lot about how universities almost function as a microcosm of our current culture.
Is there any digital medium that you haven’t tried yet?
I would love to do virtual reality on day. Artists are just starting to work with it. When VR is done well, it’s just really great. It’s so immersive. It feels similar to when I was first experiencing the internet, where you’re in this total imaginary, fantasy land. I just love that feeling.