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We Spoke to Ann Hirsch About 'Muffy,' Her New Show at American Medium

She's starred on a reality show, written a play about a preteen's AOL chats with a dirty old man, and created video art about porn.

Photos courtesy of Ann Hirsch 

Ann Hirsch is the fairy godmother of girls like me who grew up watching reality TV and porn. While we perfected the 45-degree MySpace angle, she worked as “a young girl artist on the web” years before the idea trended. In 2008, she uploaded videos onto YouTube when the site was still a community for weirdoes. The YouTube project, Scandalishious, mashed two cam girl archetypes—psychotic oversharer and disembodied booty shaker—in one alter ego named Caroline. 

Over the years, Hirsch has transitioned from cam whore to fame whore. For a performance project in 2010, she played “Annie,” a parody of reality TV stereotypes. She landed a role on Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair. On the dating show, reality starlets competed for the love of Frank “the Entertainer” Maresca, a reality TV veteran best known for his appearances on I Love New York and I Love Money, as they crashed at his parent's house.

Annie didn't win, but Hirsch has continued exploring the dominating platforms of our time: reality TV, YouTube, and porn. Last year, she wrote Playground, a play comprised of a preteen girl's dirty AOL chats with an older man, and on May 16, she opened up her first solo exhibition, Muffy, at American Medium, unpacking the perverse confusion that clouds childhood sexuality. Last month, I sat down with Hirsch at a bar to talk about Belle Knox, Star Wars, and her many artistic endeavors. 

Photos for jobe #1,1998/2013​

VICE: Your body of work uses autobiography to harp on teenage sexuality and burgeoning desires. Why does Muffy explores these themes in a viewpoint that isn’t autobiographical?  
Ann Hirsch: When I started doing the Playground work, it made me think more about child sexuality—when we become sexual, how we become sexual, how it manifests at different ages. I had been thinking about that with the Scandalishious stuff too, because I would make videos and I would get response videos from 12‑year-old girls being like, “We're imitating you. We want to be like you.”

Did you think, What have I done?
Yeah, and [I was] like, “What the fuck. That's so fucked up.” [I wanted] to write back to them, “Don't be like me,” but then I realized I was afraid of seeing these girls express their sexuality because of a fear of their exploitation. But at the same time, it’s something that they experience and want to express.

How did you imagine sex as a child?
I remember my cousin told me when I was six years old that sex was like two people getting naked and kissing on the street—that's what I thought sex was for so long. Actually, the first part of the press release for Muffy refers to the scene from Star Wars where Princess Leia is Jabba the Hut’s sex slave, and we wrote, “In a galaxy far, far away, a young girl...” That's me! I would tie myself to my giant teddy bear and pretend that I was his sex slave.

What?
The scene with Princess Leia and Jabba! These titillating scenes from children's family movies influenced my sense of sexuality as a kid. There are other [movie characters] like that—Jasmine in Aladdin and the Princess Bride—that are part of the show too. I was reading the interview Belle Knox did with Rolling Stone. She was like, “Yeah, when I was a kid, I would ask my friends to put me in the dog cage because it excited me.” And I was like, “Yes, this is our culture. This is us!” Even as a kid, I wanted to be in the dog's cage.

​My Starving Public, 1998/2014

Why do you choose to explore these strange sexual fantasies?
I find childhood sexuality so fascinating. It’s so tempting to talk about—no one wants to address it—but I think that's the totally wrong way to go. I'm still so ashamed about some of the things I did as a child because we’re supposed to feel ashamed of that, [like] the fact that I wanted to be tied to a teddy bear as a sex slave. That’s embarrassing, but with Playground, once I started talking about [chatting with older men as a preteen], literally half the people I told were like, “I had a very similar, if not exact, same experience.” Whereas before I brought it up, no one was talking about that. 

I think porn is just another version of hiding the reality around sex, and that's why I think it’s so detrimental. If we are not going to tell kids what intimacy is—and what relationships are and what sex is—they are going to learn it from the internet. This is why we have so many fucked up young men right now: All they know is porn.

Some of your performances have used porn to explore how people find pleasure in scenes of domination. Is it fascinating to gauge how people’s sensitivities to violence tick to humor, to arousal, and to disturbance?
Yeah, so much of the performance has got to do with the audience’s discomfort. “What are my eyes supposed to be doing here? How should I be reacting? Should I be laughing? This is disturbing. What are other people doing?”

It’s almost like it’s the audience that’s performing for you.
They are like my puppets. I'm like, “Dance puppets.”

Muffy is on display at American Medium in Brooklyn through June 27. There will be a closing night of performances on June 27 at 7 PM.

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