Monday, June 16, 2014

Jasmine Hirst Photographic Artist, Filmmaker and Visual Poet- It's Been A Hell Of A Life - INTERVIEWS

"My work as an artist and my personal life are one entity. So my answers will combine both aspects". Australian-Born, New York-based Artist, Photographic Artist, Visual Poet, Film Producer Jasmine Hirst, makes it perfectly clear at the outset, life and art are inseparable. 

Like the celebrated Australian Photographic Artist Carol Jerrems in the 1970's almost ten years earlier, Jasmine Hirst is similarly concerned with the gritty, poetic and elusive images that portray the actions and way of life in the 1980's. 

In turn, unconsciously perhaps, the artist has been continuing Jerrem's interest in feminism and style ever since, extending and broadening analogue photography into experimental filmmaking and the MTV video future, producing an extensive repertoire of evocative, low-key and not-so-low-key, intimate, diaristic, social documentary photographs and moving image works focusing on largely urban environments, women's interventions, popular culture and social relationships. 

Instead of portraying the hopes and aspirations of the counter-culture of earlier days, Jasmine Hirst casts her lens onto the Punk and Post-Punk scenes of 1980's Inner City Sydney and takes the gritty, the poetic and the elusive qualities of 1970's artists like Jerrems to the outer limits, illuminating the spectre of HIV AIDS, intravenous drug use, alienation, suicide, grief and loss, anarchy, violent abuses of women, children and foregrounding the empowerment young women and men achieved through their complex web of women's-based creative collaborations and kinship circles gathering momentum since the 1970's.

Unfortunately today, unlike Carol Jerrems who is long celebrated, collected, the subject of many survey exhibitions and academic publications, Jasmine Hirst remains relatively unknown, undervalued and unexamined in her own culture of origin, however, recently as is the case of many artists who need to be elsewhere other than Australia to gain recognition, a sense of place, a sense of belonging and the absolute feeling of safety, her extraordinary thirty-year career comprising photography, films and visual poems were the subject of the comprehensive retrospective It's Been A Hell Of A Life organised by The New York Filmmakers Co-Op and La Petite Versailles in her chosen homeland. 

Many of Hirst's works have been collected and archived by the New York Filmmakers Co-op in perpetuity. In these candid moments of genuflection and gratitude Jasmine Hirst speaks to Paul Andrew about the consolations of hindsight and the sheer joy of living in New York.

Jasmine tell me about your earliest childhood memory?

I was in Grade Two and we were drawing. I don't remember much about my childhood but this memory is, for whatever reason, crystal clear. 

I looked at this boy's drawing of a space man. It was phenomenal. So much more mature than the other children's drawings including my own. No doubt in my mind, this little boy had an artist's soul. I always wanted to be an artist but my parents forced me to take academic subjects at school and university so that I would have a financially self-supporting career to fall back on….well that didn't work out. I just wasted a whole bunch of time doing Physics and Maths. 

Tell me about your early training in Photography?

My earliest photographic training was with my father. He was a photographer and made Super 8 films. He was an artist but chose to take a normal job to support his family. He died of cancer a year before his retirement as a soil analyst, probably from the mercury thermometers which would explode in the oven.

He hated that job and had planned a wonderful retirement that never came about. Moral of this story is, life is short, do what you love to do. Dad had built his own darkroom in our house. So I learnt to develop and print photos at the age of six. 

Dad's creative energies came out sideways through entering competitions with elaborate creative submissions. He won many trips around the world and many strange things.

Since I wasn't allowed to pursue creative subjects in my academic training, and I was too well trained to rebel, I didn't take an official photographic class until my first year of university, which was a week end workshop and nothing to do with the University curriculum.

I grew up in a very conservative, racist, homophobic, misogynist, anti-art, anti-anything-different culture. For some reason, my friends were angry at me for taking such a class. I didn't understand why at the time. I just learnt that anything creative was perceived as an antagonistic act against the general public.

I was a late bloomer, in relation to teenage rebellion, so it took me until second year of University to assert my own needs, in a very explosive and overnight way. I demanded that I wanted to move to Sydney and go to art school. Although, I actually wanted to go to New York and be an artist, but Sydney was closer and more manageable at the time.

I believe New York in the early 80's was still like a war zone, so with my innocence, I don't think I would have survived Manhattan back then.

So at the age of 18, I landed in Darlinghurst, Sydney, totally alone and went to art night classes, as I didn't have anything to put in a portfolio for an Art School application. I became a Punk. I dyed my hair blonde and dressed like Courtney Love before she dressed that way.

Purple boots, torn emerald green dresses, smudged eyeliner. It was an external change in an unconscious attempt to change internally. I looked and acted in diametric opposition to the conservative way my parents and the suburbs had demanded of me.

The Labour Government at that time was putting a lot of money into the Arts, especially programs to get more women involved in the creative industries. Thank you Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke.

I undertook a government funded free program for women to learn video production. We called ourselves Technical Girl's Collective and made a video about women and creative unemployment, called Let's Work. Let's Not. Let's Live to be shown in schools.

We went on to learn screen printing and made postcards and a calendar.  It was at this time, in 1983, that I met someone who profoundly affected my entire life. Geoffrey was a young, gay, punk, poet, artist, a magical creature with a soul too fragile for this earth.

He walked into the Darlinghurst house, where the Technical Girls had their studio, to visit one of the girls who was his friend. My life changed in that moment. He was my first soul mate and he wasn't long for this world.

We became as thick as thieves immediately spending dreamy days and nights, reading Andre Gide, Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys and Italo Calvino, making art, fantasizing about moving to New York and killing ourselves in the subways, very Gothic and Punk and Romantic.

We floated through Oxford Street nightclubs, 45's, the Taxi Club, Patches, French's and the Exchange Hotel with all that great '80's disco music, which still reverberates within me.

One night on one of our surreal walks around Darlinghurst we came across police crime scene tape around the building behind the Coco Cola sign at the crest of William Street in King's Cross. We discovered that a guy had wrapped himself in a bomb and was threatening to blow up himself and the skyscraper. Geoffrey and I, in our Young Punk Stupid Gothic Delirium got as close to the building as we could and sat down waiting for the explosion.

Geoffrey told me his exotic tales of Lost Love and Lost People while we waited to die. He was one of those people who finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, so life through Geoffrey's eyes was a rich beautiful tapestry.

The man didn't blow himself up and we wandered home.

Geoffrey taught me that being an artist is about the way you perceive the world. It's not about the work you make. So many artists are too depressed to even get out of bed, let alone make art. An Artist has an artist's soul and that's that. You either are or you're not.

I was free as a bird then. One day Geoffrey said that he would like to get his Australian flag back, which he had left in Deo Demure's apartment in Adelaide. I decided to go and get it and see the Adelaide Art Festival while I was there. Geoffrey put me on a Greyhound bus and said "You are so beautiful and ethereal." and kissed me goodbye. He killed himself 24 hours later.

I broke into pieces. My heart, to this day, has a bottomless hole in it, with his name on it. But he left me priceless gifts. The first day I met him I also met his best friend, artist Linda Dement, dressed in a pink leather coat and diamantes and a fresh dead blue dinosaur tattoo on her arm, at a time when nice girl's didn't get tattoos.

Linda and I forged a life long friendship over this great tragedy and loss. I lost all reason to live at this time, as did Linda. It was the beginning of my experience of feeling like a ghost floating over the surface of the earth. Of not belonging anywhere.

Geoffrey had been my home, his other gift to me. The gift of finding where you belong, to find like-minded souls with whom to wander aimlessly. Linda and I became art collaborators, working on each other's art to get us through these dreary days of life.

After Geoffrey died, I applied to East Sydney Tech which later became the National Art School. It was housed in an 1800's women's jail. In the large auditorium you could see where the walls of the cells once were.

Every day I used to walk past the Prison Governor's mansion across the road from this old jail, which had become an artist's haven and was called the Oasis, named after the tropical jungle garden that lay in the centre of the circling mansion. I longed to live there.

The bedrooms and living rooms and servant quarters had been transformed into magical apartments. A German artist had transformed his space into the interior of a heart. The place was filled with punks, artists, musicians…the outsiders.

As has often happened in my life, the things I visualize come true. And soon I was living there while I went to Art school. At the time, to accompany my adolescent punk ways, I made work that shocked.

And I sure did evoke a reaction. The more conservative teachers wanted to fail me in photography for the immature shock value, no doubt, of my work, by my photographic teacher, Christine Cornish, defended my work and could see my potential as I matured in life, and I received an "A".

Christine makes the most beautiful refined delicate work and I was, and am,  grateful for her faith in me. My major was painting but one could easily see that photography was where I felt at home, since I'd been photographing and printing since I was six years old.

Tell me in a little more detail about the social cultural political setting at this time and what else also fuelled your discontent?

In the mid '80's, whilst at art school during the day, at night I made art, read and hung out with dreamlike, transexual, gay, soul-broken artists who lived in the Glebe squats and Beta and Alpha Houses in Newtown.

The Gunnery in Wolloomooloo, where Artspace in Sydney is now, was a surreal eclectic mix of musicians and artists who would have underground films screenings and crazy wild nights of Punk music. I made friends there with Hellen Rose-Schauersberger, who has gone on to create great art, performance and films internationally.

I remember going to the bathrooms which were under a foot of water. It had been a military training place, and there was an incredible dome-shaped stage and seating where the performances would occur.  Wild wild days.

Everyone was making art, performance and music. I remember seeing one of the most beautiful girls I've ever laid my eyes on, called Wendy, who was in a Butchered Babies performance. I still have visions of her and a little girl, whose mother was also an artist, dressed as dead people and creating the strangest performance one would ever see. True Punk.

Books, Geoffrey had taught me, were extremely precious objects to be infused and held and slowly savoured, to steal quotes from and to make visual art about. I continued the literary education he had begun with me. I loved the lonely Parisian experiences of Jean Rhys, the narcissistic musings of Anais Nin, the blinding sun of Albert Camus' The Stranger.

Linda introduced me to the eclectic writings of Colin Wilson. The Outsider gave me great comfort as I discovered my soul mates back through history. Our bible at the time was The Mind Parasites, an explanation for the suffering that was common to us all.

I immersed myself into the writings of the Existentialists as I resonated with this pain and emptiness and meaninglessness. Until today, the very look of a book sends a luxurious chill down my spine.

I would help Linda in her filmmaking and photographic adventures. She was making glorious Super 8 films about the Transgressive. The writings of Michael Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Georges Bataille, Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes and Hélène Cixous were the flavour of the day.

However I was entirely bored by their writings, as my interest lay in, not the theories of Life and Art, but of immersing myself in the feeling nature of Life and Art. A predilection that could easily kill one. And did.

There was great carnage at this time. Through suicide, AIDS and overdoses, I witnessed the death of many young people. It was like a war zone.

I would wake up every morning wondering who would die today.

Geoffrey's death had so devastated me that I had become somewhat numb to the hundreds of deaths that followed. Every loss just cemented that black hole in my soul and provided more fuel for my art-making.

I had learnt that creative energy transmutes pain into something like ecstacy. An Alchemical process. And to this day I make art for the transformative purposes.

As I have aged, I have witnessed and experienced more and more horror that lies within the innate being of humans. Art is my love and my salvation. And my Torturer.

The worst times of my life are when I am incapable of creating, because of a broken heart, despair, or the plain old Nothingness and Meaninglessness that invades all people at some point.

I wasn't aware of the political situation at the time, nor am I ever, as I live in the subterranean world of my psyche, rarely popping my head up to see what the Government is up to.

All I was aware of was that the Labour Government gave more money to the Arts than the Liberals. I have been fortunate to have grown up in a country and, now live in another country, where I am free to be an artist. If I had grown up in an oppressive society, I doubt I would have had any psychic room to create.

When I was six years old, I was sexually assaulted by a stranger on my way home from a friend's house. This was the beginning of many incidences of sexual abuse in all its forms.

The boys at school couldn't keep their hands off me. As I matured, the perpetrators became older, stronger and more frightening.

Sexual abuse is the normal socialization of the girl child in Australian society. I lost many friends through self-destruction because of sexual abuse in their childhoods. I experienced sexual harassment every day of my life in Australia.

The first time I ever felt safe in my entire life was when I landed in New York City. I have not been assaulted or harassed ONCE. I travel the subways and walk the streets at 3am and feel so incredibly secure. 

The New York subways, that Geoffrey and I had dreamed of dying in, have become my safety and comfort, my life.
So in the late '80's/early '90's my art changed shaped. The growing rage within me about the endemic nature of sexual assault of women and children,  became my source of inspiration.

To live with this level of rage would only give me liver cancer, and so I diluted its poison by making art. I also began my Master's degree at the College of Fine Arts of the University of New South Wales and extended my medium to filmmaking.

I discovered the music, writings and performances of American artist Lydia Lunch in a book called Angry Women. (RE/Search Publications, 1992) And in doing so found another soul mate. Another artist who was painfully aware of the abuses women suffered in this world.

And again, proving that what you focus on can materialize, I ran into Lydia on the streets of Darlinghurst one afternoon. I asked her to be in a film I was making about Aileen Wuornos, whose portrayal by Charlize Theron in the feature film Monster years later won the actor an Academy Award for best actor.

Lydia happily and enthusiastically agreed to participate. Then years after this we reconnected in New York and became creative collaborators. I photograph her and made visual filmic poems to her music and her dark poetry. She is helping me finish my film about Aileen Wuornos, which has been my Sword of Damocles for the past seventeen years.

We have begun quite a few large art projects together. Lydia is my constant inspiration as an artist and a human being. She is a Force.

I also met Penny Arcade, at her performance of B! D! F! W! at Belvoir Street Theatre. I cried during the show, overwhelmed to see my soul group for the first time on stage.

We talked after the performance, she touched my cheek delicately and we bonded for life. She had talked about Aileen in her show, Bad Reputation and immediately understood my art.

She later became my mentor for an Art Mentorship grant from the Art's Council of Australia and in doing so manifested Geoffrey's and my dream of being an artist in New York City. She changed my life. I wouldn't be where I am now without her.

I began photographing her in 1994 and continue today. We are now working on a book of twenty years of my photographs of her accompanied by her writing. My photos of her are currently in an exhibition along with her artwork, and performance, at the AMP Gallery in Provincetown.

Lydia also appears in my current solo show, Black Blood, which includes my portraits of Patti Smith, Courtney Love, Chrissy Amphlett, Nan Goldin, Vali Myers and Pam Hogg.

In 2012 we began The Coming to America tour in Baltimore which involved my short films intercut with her performance. Penny then landed a role in the Tennessee Williams play The Mutilated alongside John Waters' star Mink Stole and so the continuation of our tour was postponed until a future date.

When I first moved to Sydney to go to art school, I spent many lonely hours in the Art Gallery of NSW and the library. I had become obsessed with Andy Warhol and the Factory and read everything I could about him and the people who surrounded him.

I made art about Edie Sedgwick, being totally mesmerized by this beautiful doomed creature. I still have a photograph of me punk in 1984 with an Edie Sedgwick poster behind me, The Wreck of a Warhol Superstar.

So once again, what you focus on becomes real.

Penny Arcade was an Andy Warhol superstar. She starred in Warhols' film Women In Revolt. She starred with Patti Smith in The Play-House of the Ridiculous. She knew Andy, Edie, Taylor Meade, everyone in that New York scene.

When I arrived on her doorstep in 2002, she took me around the underground art scene of New York and introduced me to all the Warhol Superstars who were still breathing.

This was so unbelievable to me, that I entered a surreal zone in my mind. You know when the magical and bizarre happens in your life and you can't comprehend it, so your brain enters another sphere?

I met Jayne County, Lee Black Childers (RIP), a darling man who died recently, Taylor Meade (RIP), who also passed over recently, Ruby Lynn Reyner, Danny Fields and others. And I was able to ask Penny all about Edie Sedgwick.

And technology Jasmine, I am curious about the actual technology you began making work with, the lenses, cameras and film stock you used and why so?

In the 80's I used my Dad's 35 mm camera. A Fuji I think. And a standard lens. I did all my creative work in the darkroom.

It doesn't matter what photo you take, all the work is in the darkroom process or, now, in Photoshop. I've taken some of my best work with an iPhone, or a plastic children's camera.

Also pin hole cameras produce the most beautiful work as there is no control about what you are photographing and accidents produce the best work. I still go for accidents in my work, which is very scary to rely on. But that is where the best art lies, when I let go and just snap, snap, snap.
In the early 80's Linda Dement introduced me to the work of Joel Peter Witkin. I loved his use of scratches on the photographs and began drawing and scratching on my photographs.

Then I would make a paper contact negative of it, and then back to a positive paper contact so that the marks I made became one with the photograph.

I always use a high ASA, 1600 or 3200. Back then I would push my film, shooting on 400ASA and developing as 1600ASA. I love the beauty of high contrast film. It makes people look stunning immediately.

Then I found Ellen Von Unwerth's photography, a woman after my aesthetic and she is a master of it. Finances absolutely direct my creativity and I have had great restriction. But within these boundaries, one pushes their scope of creativity.

I've never had superb equipment, until recently when an Angel bought me a Sony Digital RX10. (You know who you are!) Before this I had been using my iPhone which takes beautiful photos with Instagram filters and stills from a cheap digital video camera. Five year olds are now taking the best photos with their iPhone.

And looking back what details were you interested in conceptually and stylistically during your early 1980’s career?

I am a child of Popular Culture and Punk. Music videos are my greatest source of aesthetic inspiration. Whenever I am stuck for ideas, either photographic or film/video, I go on Youtube and watch hours of music videos.

But back in the 80's I had Countdown and music magazines. Conceptually I was interested in my interior world as well as documenting the amazing people who surrounded me. I lived for a while with Zoe Farris, who was way ahead of her time and an incredible performer.

Zoe would do shows at 45's on Oxford Street. She dressed as Nosferatu all the time. An amazing person and artist. During the day we would walk into the city and she would scare the secretaries.

I took many photos of her. But mostly, through my art I was trying to purge my pain and angst of youth. And heal the damage of having grown up in a sexist, racist, ignorant, homophobic, misogynist judgmental rapist suburban culture. 

Tell me a little more about this experimentation with photography, what you adapted, did differently or extended into your own unique and original visual style?

I can't see the forest for the trees in regards to my own visual style. That question is probably best asked of the viewers of my work. I see things: visual art, music videos, films, magazines, posters in the streets, graffiti, book covers; I read things, both books and stories on the internet, and this all goes inside of me, a click happens and then something comes out of me.

I'm not really conscious of creating a unique style. I just make art, because I have to. I have no choice.
And as career momentum began to build, how did your early ideas grow, extend and broaden?

I looked internationally for my subject matter. I extended past Darlinghurst. I found other women artists who were making similar work to mine. And most of these women were in New York.

In Australia I most resonate with the work of Media Artist Linda Dement. I also felt a kinship with Debra Petrovitch. But that's about it.

I found the work of Lydia Lunch, Barbra Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Penny Arcade, Nan Goldin. I had begun using text with my images, as I wanted my work to be perfectly clear in its meaning. And I started noticing that many more women artists added text to their images, than male artists. 

I wished, and still do, that my art is available to all audiences, not just the viewer in the art world. The problem for me about conceptual or abstract art is that it is not readily available to someone who never enters the art world.

I didn't want any confusion when the viewer reads my work. My work has been inside jails, health centres and doctor's surgeries. If my art can help just one teenager, lying in their bedroom in the suburbs, somewhere in the world, in complete despair, then I will feel that I have been successful as an artist.

Whilst doing my Master's degree I broadened to film and video, as they had the equipment available there. The still image, even with text, became not enough for me. I wanted to create a greater emotional impact, and they only way to impact someone emotionally in a really profound way is to use music.

I wish I had become a musician, rather than a visual artist. When I stood at that particular crossroad, I chose the wrong path. In later years I learned to play the bass and joined Trash Kitten with two other girls. I wasn't very good, but I had the time of my life.

I loved rehearsals and the collaboration. Everything to do with making music. In New York I also joined a band as bass player, a multimedia performance band not unlike Velvet Underground, with our films playing behind us, and strange performances by performance artists who would join us on stage. I loved that too.

But to be a good musician you must practice every day and I abhorred daily repetitive practice since the horror of my classical ballet training from five years old until I was nineteen.

At this time I also sold work to Madonna, who owns one of the largest contemporary art collections in the world. It didn't change my life as an artist, but I did notice that people who had previously ignored me, started talking to me.

The same thing happened after I filmed Aileen Wuornos on death row. My invisibility became visible. I don't like this part of human nature. And still today, people will ignore me, and then find out what I have done creatively and with whom, and suddenly they want to be my best friend.

Unfortunately this world is about Who You Know and What You Have Done, rather than who you are as a person. Once Linda Dement and I went together to a gallery in Sydney to show them our work for a possible future exhibition and they spent the whole time telling us how bad our art was: an ugly experience.

We felt so horrible after this experience we vowed we would never put ourselves in that situation again. A little while later we ran into one of those girls at an opening at another gallery. One of us had achieved a milestone by then, I can't remember what, and the girl had found out and asked us back to her gallery. We declined.

Tell me about your earliest influences/mentors in Photography?

There are two strands to my art. I investigate the shadow lands of the human psyche, at great cost to me emotionally.

So then I like to take a break and make work of Beauty Itself, portraits of my favorite artists, musicians and writers. I began a series called Underground Superstars in 1995.

I kept collecting photos of my favorite artists and had an exhibition in New York at Illuminate Metropolis Gallery in 2011. This will be on going exhibition as my collection grows.

So far I photographed Chrissy Amphlett, Courtney Love, Patti Smith, Penny Arcade, Lydia Lunch, Sandra Bernhard, Nan Goldin, Paul Capsis, Leee Black Childers (RIP), Vali Myers (RIP), Mary Gaitskill, and more.

Although I was already making high contrast black and white grainy portraits before I saw Ellen Von Unwerth's work, her work definitely pushed me harder to perfect this look. And punk rock posters with that photocopy look absolutely influenced my aesthetic.

I loved Andy Warhol's polaroids and portrait screen prints. Polaroid is a beauty maker, but very expensive. So I try and recreate that look in Photoshop. I love the black and white photographic and film work by Patti Smith. And I am affected by the images in Zines, music posters, music videos, high end fashion magazines and Popular Culture magazines such as Interview Magazine.

My first 'Superstar' was Divinyls musician Chrissy Amphlett.

I first witnessed Chrissy as a teenager at The New York Hotel. She was so wild on stage, with her dirty hair covering her face and singing with her back to the audience. I had never experienced a creature like her.

Then one day I was walking along my street in Darlinghurst and I saw her crossing the bridge near the Coco Cola sign, and recognized her as the girl from that band.

I later found out she had lived a few doors down from me. When I was at art school in the early 80's I was walking through Hyde Park one night I saw them filming a man dressed in gray walking through the fountain.

I wondered what it was for and saw it later in the Divinyls' music video The Good Die Young. In 1995 Chrissy called my house out of the blue and said "It's Chrissy Amphlett here." I dropped the phone in shock and hung up on her.

She called back, "I hear you want to take my photo, come to my hotel room now and show me how good you are." I took her my photos about the ramifications of sexual abuse in childhood, from the exhibition I Really Want To Kill You But I Can't Remember Why, at Artspace, Sydney in 1995.

Chrissy loved my work, and although the record company had already hired a photographer to take the photos for their upcoming Underworld album, she chose the photos I took of her for the album and publicity.

That was the beginning of an eighteen year long friendship with Chrissy until her tragic death last year. Her death haunts me.

She was a vibrant strong exotic life-filled woman. A true artist. She helped me so much to settle into New York living and I treasure all the adventures we undertook together. My work of Chrissy was recently at Blender Gallery in Elizabeth Bay on the one year anniversary of her death.

My second "Superstar" was Penny Arcade. I have been photographing her for twenty years. I just did another shoot of her a month ago.

We live in a ADHD society. I want my work to be strong in nature and have immediate impact. And I want to make it very quickly as I am ADHD in nature.

It's why I chose photography rather than painting, so I get the thrill of seeing the image emerge quickly in the developer tray, or see what I have shot immediately on my digital camera.

I have no mentors I can think of in regards to portraiture, except for Ellen Von Unwerth. I know who I don't want to be influenced by. I am very tired of the perfect gray scale portrait with the subject sitting in a studio with canvas behind them.

Tell me in a bit more detail about your long term friendship and collaboration with Media Artist Linda Dement?

Linda Dement Linda Dement Linda Dement. Yes, Linda is my greatest muse and influence. Linda's writing and art is so incredibly..., I can't even find the words to describe her work.

It impacts me where it is the darkest and most vulnerable. Her written work takes me away to another reality and makes me smile, a hard feat.

Her work makes me cry. Her work makes me forget the cruelty of day to day living. Linda and I escaped our conservative city (ironically she went to the same kindergarten as my sister, but we didn't meet until I was 18 in Sydney) and found the subculture of Punk which meant we were artists, outsiders, had suffered a lot of pain, open thinkers, all inclusive: there was no racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny.

Punk, the great equalizer. The boys were thin and gentle and looked like British rock stars. The girls were tattooed and strong and feisty. And Geoffrey as I mentioned earlier was also my muse. He was a brilliant artist and it is one of the greatest tragedies that he died so young.

Linda and Geoffrey both taught me that to be an artist, you live it. You make art out of everything. You read widely. You watch films. You even cut the vegetables in a creative way. You make stories up, have dreams, transmute the pain through any means you can.

Linda and I weren't very popular in the art world in Australia, as they thought we were too dark and confrontational. Our art is the blood and guts of life. We talk about the subject matters that are swept under the carpet of polite society. We were raw and in your face. And we couldn't get exhibitions or funding.

We are NOT too dark for New York City. My beloved Gothic City. It's a tough city and it applauds our work rather than shy away from it.

Our soul mates are here. In Australia the tall poppy syndrome almost killed my spirit. I learnt from a very early age not to reveal my successes or I knew I would be annihilated. I got a perfect score leaving high school, and the whole time I tried to hide my high marks, as though I had done something terrible by being smart.

And I also learnt very early on not to say I was an artist, as people would give me that blank stare and then change the subject. GOD HELP US if we were different in any way. And then I came to America, where they treat artists with great respect.

And here it is okay to have self-esteem, it's not seen as being "up yourself" as in Australia. What a horrible term and I was accused of this so many times. In America you can say I am an Artist and I make Great Art and the other person will smile and say, "How wonderful! Show me!"

I met Linda in 1983 through a mutual friend Geoffrey, who killed himself as I mentioned earlier. Linda Dement is a preternatural human being. A rare and exquisite person. We saw the world through the same eyes. A rare gift. 

We were photographing the people around us. I would assist Linda in her art projects. She was making super 8 films of the girls around her and life as a punk in Darlinghurst. She was reading Bataille's The Eye at the time, and made a wonderful transgressive film called Heart.I would be a model in her photographs. There are many photos of me naked with meat carcasses. Very Punk. She was also doing incredible drawings and writing stories.

I was a character in one of her many stories. I am not part of Cyberfeminism, that's Linda’s claim. Although my body is in her Cyber space art. She went into Cyber space and I stayed in the world of photography and film. Her interactive art is mind-blowing.One would press on an image of a wound and up would come films or stories or more images about the darker side of life. For years Linda and I would write letters to each other while she was travelling the world, or even if she was suburb away. I've lost my letters from her. They would have made a beautiful book. Now we email one another.

email each other.

And film, video, tell me in more detail about your other early collaborations including Technical Girl’s Collective?

In 1983 I took part in a government funded program to teach women video. It was called Technical Girl's Collective. And this is where my film career began. We made the video I mentioned a moment ago called Let's Work! Let's Not! Let's Live!"

It was about unemployment and employment. Very exotic. But really it captured history, a glimpse into life in the inner city of Sydney in 1983.

Another girl from the collective, Margie Medlin, and I decided to develop this work and apply for funding from the Women's Film Fund at the Australian Film Commission.

We developed the script, called With Inertia and did indeed receive funding from the AFC in 1986. It was a twenty minute film that won the Best Experimental Film at the Toowoomba Film Festival. 

It also screened at Melbourne and Adelaide Film Festivals and on SBS. It is a precious visual capture of that unique time. We employed twenty two women to work on the film.

During my Master's Degree, because they had the equipment there, I learnt to edit and began to make short videos by myself. Working with a large crew and dealing with funding bodies was very stressful for me, and so I began working alone on film.

I have always loved film. Film and music are the most important things to me, because they take you out of your reality.

I remember when going to the movies as a child it was an Event. Those beautiful ornate picture theatres at the time and that wonderful smell of popcorn, old walls and floorboards.

The first movie I recall seeing was The Hunchback of Notre Dame which terrified me. Next I remember seeing Jaws with my father, which instilled an intense fear of sharks into me for the rest of my life.

My mother and I would watch all those beautiful black and white 1940's films, and I guess that aesthetic solidified within me, especially film noir with the shadows and ahead-of-its-time composition.

While I was still at school I discovered the world of the Arthouse cinema. I watched Rebecca in one of these small grungy theatres and to this day remember, Last Night I Dreamt of Mandalay and the dreamlike state that movie put me into.

That era of cinema moved me aesthetically and emotionally. And then I discovered foreign films and my small universe cracked open. The slow sexy French films, the smart gritty English films, the Scottish films that would whack you across the head. And then….the love of my life…..New York Underground Films.

I went by myself to a New York Underground Film Festival. It was held in an office block in the city and I remember, for one of the films, Underground U.S.A. (1980, feature-length underground film directed by Eric Mitchell and starring Patti Astor, Rene Ricard, Jackie Curtis, Cookie Mueller) I was the only one in the audience.

Entering the world of New York in the '70's and early '80's was like entering heaven for me. A couple of years ago I saw this film again at The Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. I had experienced so much in the intervening years,  that it was like watching a completely different film. 

I devoured all the films of Andy Warhol. Ciao Manhattan, about Edie Sedgwick, changed my life. It was the film Geoffrey and I had been looking forward to seeing. He saw it while I was in Adelaide, and then killed himself.

I watched it by myself after his death and cried all the way through it. I now live in a building which Edie Sedgwick would often visit. There are photos of her outside my front door.

She filmed Kitchen in an apartment on the corner. ((

So every day I walked through Edie Sedgewicks ghost. The film that grabs me is the one, that during the watching of, I don't think of what I need at the grocery story. Its total transportation and I love films like this that capture the struggles common to us all.

And if it has a great soundtrack and an intelligent script and stunning cinematography, well...I am in Heaven. And this is rare.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show profoundly impacted my 15 year old brain. It truly rocked my foundation. I realised then there was an enormous rich world out there that I had no idea about. And that I could access these worlds through cinema.

There are too many films from the 40's, 50's, '60's and '70's that I love, to list, which have inspired my art making. There are less movies from the last 30 years that I have been moved by.

Tell me about Margie Medlin?

In 1986 Margie Medlin and I co-directed the film called With Inertia. It was developed from the first video we ever made, Let's Work, Let's Not, Let's Live. The script was written collectively, so it isn't my vision. But I learnt much about making film with a large crew, twenty two amazing women. And it taught me that I would rather work alone or with one other collaborator.

With Inertia is a slice of punk life in Darlinghurst in the '80's so it is an important piece of art historically.

I am now collaborating with Lydia Lunch on films that visualise her music and poetry. Just the two of us. I film and light and edit. Lydia allows me to do what I do. I LOVE it. It's the perfect way of making art to me.

She is so inspirational and what a remarkable human being she is. This is pure magic. Alchemy itself. She understands me and the two of us make great Beauty out of past Pain.

I have also been collaborating with Penny Arcade for 20 years. Again it is just the two of us on a shoot. She does her own styling, I do lighting and I just click, click, click and in about 30 minutes, we have incredibly beautiful photos. And then there's my collaboration with Linda Dement, which has been on-going since 1984. Yes and I understand you are collaborating once again with Media Artist Linda Dement for her augmented reality project about the 1980’s Punk Scene?

True. Linda is currently working on a project called Ex: Let me read this;
"The spirits of past events, invisible reverberations of lives lived, inhabit the ground we walk on. New terrain forms from the fertile decomposition of the old under the weather of the present. Narratives of the past are materially written in the landscapes objects and patterns of our present.
This work calls up now faded and illegible stories from the Darlinghurst streets to re-write them in-situ as augmented reality for viewing on smart phone, to give new form to vigorous and turbulent energies of a punk subculture that existed across this locale in the 1980s.
The creative bohemian past of the area is well known and documented. This work adds to another layer of acknowledging a cultural past which arose from that rich ground, post-yellow-house, post-1970s, in the particular socio-political conditions of the eighties. This was a formative movement for a number of our contemporary artists, myself included.
In Roman times neighbourhoods had tutelary deities, protectors and patrons of locales, their shrines, meeting points for local unrest as well as for prayer. Here, characters from our punk past will similarly be given a deified presence in a location of significance, as geo-located writing and iconography; a poetics of memory and attributes, presence and absence, place and invisibility, new tech and old grunge, dead souls and cultural lineage.
I will be undertaking this work during a City of Sydney Creative Live Work Space residency (providing subsidised rent in Darlinghurst) and in consultation with long time local resident artists George & Charis Schwarz and with ex-resident artist Jasmine Hirst, now co-director of the grassroots organisation New York Museum of Punk.
This work deals with both personal and cultural memory, with how we honour our dead, how we remember, what we see & don't see in a place we once knew, how we share that and make it vibrant and relevant to those who were't there but who now walk on the ground so marked and formed by the unseen past."
Linda and I were bona fide punks in the early 80's.

Punk came to Australia a little later than London and New York. So she is re-animating this incredible time. Breathing new air into our faded memories.

I met Tequila Mockingbird, who is the Queen of Punk in USA, through Chris Rael. They were recording indo-pop versions of Pretty Vacant, Wild is the Wind and Jumping Jack Flash and asked me to make music videos for them.

Tequila had started the LA Punk Museum, where she lives, and asked me to be the director of the New York Punk Museum. The New York chapter still exists in cyber space, but will hopefully find a physical venue in Manhattan one day.

I am contributing my experience of the 80's to Linda and creating a triangle between New York, LA and Sydney, punk-wise. I have been blessed with hearing first hand stories about the major players in Punk in New York and LA.

I have even walked past Richard Hell on St Mark's at Halloween, now that's a New York experience, just like having a rat run across your feet, which I have also experienced.

They say that Malcolm McClaren saw Richard Hell perform and took that aesthetic back to London and formed the Sex Pistols. There are two opposing camps who claim the birth of Punk is London vs New York.

Penny Arcade says that Jayne County was the first punk, and that all her ideas were stolen by the British. I once sat in the bathroom Nancy Spungen had died in, at the Chelsea Hotel. Very depressing energy there.

Chrissy Amphlett had booked Room 100 for a magazine photo shoot and invited me to come over and feel the ghost of Nancy. I remember when all the punks came out of the darkness to see Sid and Nancy in 1986 at a cinema in Sydney. Many of them spent most of the movie in the bathroom smoking.  And then 25 years later I am sitting in the bathroom she died in. Life is surreal.
The New York Filmmakers Coop began in 1963 with groundbreaking experimental filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, tell me about the Co-op from your own point of view, your recent retrospective and why it is so significant to you and the role it has today for contextualising works for artists like yourself who work differently to mainstream filmmaking?

The NY Filmmakers Coop is SO important, as it is collecting and saving the jewels of experimental film, which would otherwise perhaps become extinct. 

MM Serra, the executive director, saw my films in a screening at Gene Frankel Theatre in New York and asked if I would like my films to be collected by the Co-op.

She is a huge supporter of my work and I am very grateful to her. She asked me to have a solo screening of my films at Le Petit Versailles in the Lower East Side and a photographic solo show, Black Blood, at the Coop, which opened on Friday, Black Friday of course. It is one of the few avenues we have in New York for showing films outside of the mainstream.

Reflecting on these gritty works from your career one of the things that I find most compelling is the way you are able to evoke the most extraordinary and engaging intimacy with each of your subjects, how do you do this?

I don't know. It would be best to ask the subjects about that. You could ask Penny Arcade about this as we have been working together for twenty years.( See Penny's testimonial about their collaboration below).

Penny often talks about our art making relationship and she is so much more eloquent than I. But I do feel an immediate trust that these women give me, when I start shooting. Also they know that I will only show them in the most beautiful way, as I am dedicated to Beauty. 

And with Aileen Wuornos, the intimacy you have captured of Aileen on death row is astonishing; tell me about your profound connection with Aileen?

I read about Aileen in the newspaper in 1993. Something clicked deep within me, a strange recognition, and I wrote to her. She wrote back and we corresponded for ten years up until her execution in 2002.

In 1997 Aileen asked me to come and film her on death row as she wanted to tell the truth about the seven murders to prepare herself spiritually for her death.

Aileen had been raped since she was a little girl.

Most women self destruct after such experiences, but Aileen struck outwards. It was absolutely the effects of sexual assault on her psyche that led her to death row.

I doubt that sexual assault against women and children is EVER going to stop. I have just read about the hideous gang rape of a woman in Egypt. I can't even bear to think of all the rapes that are happening throughout the world as I write this.

My interview with her does indeed show the vulnerable side of Aileen. She just wanted to be loved. She was very ill from the effects of all the rape she endured throughout her life. 

Your correspondences with Aileen, did these letters also inspire you to move to the US to live and to work as an artist?

No, my love of America happened when my parents brought me here for a vacation when I was little. I landed on American soil in the 1970’s and for the first time in my life I felt like I was Home.

And when I visited New York as a teenager, I knew that this was the centre of my world. New York is not a city, it's a person. And I am having a very passionate affair with this city.

It is not for the faint-hearted, and living here is intense. But it is a city of Artists and I have found my soul group here. One of the best things in the world is to just walk around the streets of Manhattan.

It never fails to amaze me. Like I am walking through one big film set. New Yorkers are so generous and helpful and kind. I love them.

Looking back at your career now with some measure of genuflection, what new or surprising insight(s) have you observed recently about your work on reflection?

Now that I am old. Yes, I have realized that the only important thing in life is one's spiritual journey. My art is completely insignificant. Be kind and helpful to strangers. Be generous to your friends. Listen to people's stories even if you are bored. If one has resentment for someone, don't act on it. Be aware of where one's energy is going. 

The challenge is being kind and generous when one doesn't feel like that at all. Let go of expectations. Do what makes you happy, or at least brings peace to your mind. Keep my negative judgements of others to myself. But I will continue to make art, because I have an endless source of creativity flowing through me. 
I see the emptiness of Fame, and although when I was young I had desired to be famous, I now see the folly of that. 

I aim every day to find peace within myself. And because we are all basically Narcissistic, I try to at least do one helpful thing for someone every day, even if it is as little as thinking kind thoughts about them. Knowing that Death is not far away puts everything into perspective. 
And if my art helps one tortured lonely teenager, or adult, somewhere in the world, well that is the icing on the cake.

Penny Arcade - On Collaboration with Artist Jasmine Hirst

All collaborations are a synchronistic merging and they occur on an intuitive level. I know that now 'collaboration' is taught as a process in Art School but to quote Oscar Wilde: "Nothing worth learning can be taught."

I met Jasmine Hirst in 1994 after one of my performances at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney. I had noticed her and her girlfriend in the audience during the show; they stood out in black and white to me amid the general colourfulness of the large audience.

At the end of the night as I was exiting the theatre, I saw them sitting in the lobby, a bit expectantly I thought and I myself was surprised to see them there. I experienced an aura of inevitability and immediately went up to them and introduced myself which I suppose was a bit odd since they had been watching me on stage for two hours but I was eager and pleased to meet them. We talked and I felt very drawn to Jasmine who was a bit shy but very warm and generous about my work and I asked her about hers and she told me she was a photographer

We immediately exchanged addresses and wrote to one another when I returned to NY and she sent me some samples of her work which I was very impressed with. Within six months I was back in Sydney where I began a three month tour with five weeks in Sydney.

Jasmine and I arranged a photo session immediately and working with Jasmine was not only effortless, we seemed to not only communicate wordlessly but the word I would use was 'commune'.

By 1995 I had a very long history of being photographed. I should add here that photography is my favourite art form and I had been photographed by some of the greatest photographers in the world but I noticed with Jasmine I was willing to show aspects of myself to the camera that I had never felt comfortable revealing to any other photographer.

We worked quickly and effortlessly and the session yielded many exceptional photos but more than that it seemed we had together captured a secret visual story. I was in the process of creating my play Bad Reputation, an emotionally charged work about the co-optation of "the Bad Girl" image by the art and entertainment world, that sensationalizing the sufferings of women who are marginalized by society without ever bringing the content of their pain and suffering to a conscious level.

One photo in particular was so iconic, so revealing of strength in the face of isolation, and rejection, that I immediately recognized that it was the photograph that told the whole story of the play without words and that it must be the photo for the play's poster. Five months later I returned to Sydney to collaborate with Richard Tognetti, the famed violinist and creative director of The Australian Chamber Orchestra, who was composing music for on a new work commissioned by The Vienna Festival; Sisi Sings The Blues. 

I spent a lot of time with Jasmine and we set up a photo shoot. Once again an iconic photo emerged. One photo that told the whole story of the play that I was still in the midst of writing. Now it became obvious to me that Jasmine and I had tapped into some subterranean emotional stream that she was somehow capable of capturing on film. This photo too would become the image for Sissi Sings The Blues, featured in the catalogue for that prestigious theatre festival, The Vienna Festival being one of the world's most important theatre festivals.

I returned to Sydney again six months later and Jasmine introduced me to Artspace where Jasmine was currently having a big exhibition of her black and white self portraits which were very deeply moving for me. Artspace immediately gave me a residency with a studio in which to collaborate with Jasmine as I started to work on Bad Reputation in earnest.

Unbeknownst to me at the time Jasmine was working on her film about the American Serial killer Aileen Wuornos and unbeknownst to Jasmine, Aileen Wuornos and her story were already a pivotal part of my play.

Jasmine and I spent the next two and one half months in deep conversation about all the elements in the play and at the end of the period I presented a public performance of the work I created and Jasmine photographed it. I returned to NY and stayed in touch with Jasmine as we tried to future out how we could continue to work together.

A few years later Jasmine had the opportunity to get a travel grant to further her career and I became her sponsor in NY and I offered her a residency in my studio. Jasmine and I then embarked on a full time collaborative relationship that has included video as well as photography. Jasmine has become over the past two decades an integral part of my work and of my artistic team.  

I am not aware of any two artists from different métiers who work together as Jasmine and I do, but then that is the nature of collaboration. Jasmine and my collaboration continues. People are always in stunned disbelief by our ability to work quickly and succinctly, all our shoots are done in less than two hours and they are always marked by the same organic, intuitive and holistic communication that we have had from the very beginning. 

During the more than a decade that Jasmine has worked in NY she has become part of the fabric of downtown NY's art scene fusing her own aesthetic with that of a long lineage of national and international artists who make up what is called The New York Art Scene. Jasmine's work and her unflinching commitment to her work is hugely admired and influential in NY and her film and photography work plays an important role in the artistic dialogue of NY. As Jasmine enters her mid-career period, her personal artistic vision has matured and integrated into a visual voice of great purity and power. 

For more about Jasmine read here:

The Remix Project- ARI Remix Jasmine Hirst - The Ephemera INTERVIEWS

Penny Arcade NYC August 12, 2014

Read about Penny Arcade here.... 

Sissi Sings The Blues 


All Photos Courtesy Artist Jasmine Hirst:

With Inertia
Tequila and Jasmine
New York Museum of Punk
La Petite Versailles Poster

For more info about Cyberfeminism's Linda Dement:

For more info about Jasmine Hirst:

Jasmine Hirst - Artist-Run Culture Australia

Jasmine's artist web site:


To read more about Australia's unique and diverse artist-run scene post 1980 click here :

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