Jasmine Hirst is a filmmaker and photographic artist living and working in New York. Her films are collected by the NY Filmmakers Co-op of the New Cinema Group, and have screened at the California Museum of Contemporary Art, London’s Horse Hospital Gallery and the Sydney Underground Film Festival to great acclaim.
Jasmine Hirst's photographic art is represented by Illuminated Metropolis Gallery in New York and the Mori Gallery in Sydney and has been exhibited internationally, including at the Casa Del Pane in Milan, Sprengel Museum in Hanover, and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.
Jasmine has ongoing collaborations with Penny Arcade, ex-Andy Warhol Superstar, and Lydia Lunch. Jasmine’s art delves into the darkest recesses of humanity’s most ferocious wounds: abuse, broken hearts, suicide and murder. Her work attempts to make sense of the senselessness and brutality of this world.
In this interview jasmine speaks to ARI Remix researcher and artist Paul Andrew about her archive and her direct and active participation and engagement in the diverse artist-run culture scene in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia during the 1980's.
Late 1970s and early 1980’s Queensland/Brisbane social history, what sort of world was this Queensland for you?
In the 70’s I was still attending school, graduating in 1980, so my experience of Brisbane’s art scene was confined to a somewhat sheltered typical teenager life at this time. I was raised in a homophobic, racist, misogynist, conservative suburb in Brisbane’s north steeped in the on-going culture of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
I had learnt from a very early age that to shine or excel is a very dangerous thing. And to be different in any way is social suicide. So I hid my academic successes and my magical overseas experiences afforded me by my traveling family.
My parents took me to London in 1979 for a vacation, where I experienced the Punk and Skinhead cultures for the first time. They took me to see Lindsay Kemps’ ‘Flowers’, a stage adaptation of Genet’s, ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’.
I was a naive 15 year old, with no understanding of the true meanings of this performance, but I was truly mesmerized. What an incredible gift my parents gave me, to witness Lindsay Kemp in the flesh.
An equally compelling experience was almost being mugged by skinheads on the London Underground on the way back from this show. I was amazed by their aesthetic, unknown in the suburbs of Brisbane at that time, shaved heads, and bovver boots.
This introduction to Punk/Skinhead phenomena was mixed with terror as I watched them eye my mother’s handbag and felt the energy of intended violence. Although, having being brought up in the Australian suburbs, I was unfortunately accustomed to being in a state of hyper vigilance of potential male violence.
I had learnt from a very early age that to shine or excel is a very dangerous thing. And to be different in any way is social suicide. So I hid my academic successes and my magical overseas experiences afforded me by my traveling family.
Punk Consciousness when how and where did that begin for you in Brisbane?
Also in that year a new girl came to school with short red dyed hair. I remember her carrying around a copy of an Iggy Pop album, his incredible wiry naked torso against an all-white cover. Punk was slowly making its way into Australian society and my psyche.
I completed High School in 1980 and in 1981 I went to Queensland University to study subjects that my parents decided would be appropriate for me so as to make a living in the future. My heart however was with art.
Although my father had a darkroom in our house and had taught me how the develop and print Black and White photos, when I was aged six, I began photographic classes as an extra curricular activity.
I joined the theatre and filmmakers groups at Uni. I remember creating a dance to the Moody Blues’ song “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, having had studied classical ballet since I was five years old. After having spent weeks choreographing this performance, the director, who is now a very famous theatre director in Australia, was incredibly rude to me and I walked out. This was my first lesson in learning that a disrespectful and rude nature doesn’t impede a person’s climb to fame, in fact it seems it is a necessary component in making it to the top. Living in the Art World has thickened my skin but not dulled my memory.
In hindsight attending twelve years of school was a total waste of time for me. The only valuable thing they taught me was to read.
My real education began when I met a girl, we shall call X, in my first year of University. She had been a punk, way ahead of her time in Brisbane culture. She introduced my to the world of underground music, literature art and film. We would see foreign movies at an art house cinema in Windsor, The Crystal. We attended the New York Underground Film Festival held in a little office-like projection room somewhere.
X educated me in the music of Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground; Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and learnt about the lives of Jayne County, Edie Sedgwick, Taylor Meade and the Factory habitués. I would attend shows and exhibitions at a theater in Edward Street where the Blunt Focus Cinema Collective was housed at the time. The theatre also there in the then Community Arts Centre. One of the highlights for me was Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” performed, as originally intended, by all men, with Luke Roberts (http://lukerobertsartist.com) as the incredible Martha.
I volunteered at night as a dresser at the La Boite theatre in Milton and met Michelle Andringa, a Brisbane based visual and performance artist. Through Michelle I met number of artists, many of whom were connected to the Architecture School of Queensland University, it was a time when there were many cross overs between ‘schools’, the Q scene was very active, the Student Union, Activities, 4zzz radio was located there at the time and was a voice of dissent. Michelle and I continued our friendship when we both moved to Sydney.
My memories of this period are very spotty. It was thirty five years ago and I have trouble remembering where I put my coffee one minute ago. But these are the memories that remain:
Attending a performance of the Go-Betweens at an amazing Brisbane venue, which was a pool in Spring Hill, The Spring Hill Baths. Alcohol and swimming pools a dangerous mix! but I don’t believe anyone drowned that night.)
Listening to 4ZZZ radio. The Home of Punk and the punk band scene, The Riptides, Plug Uglies, The Leftovers, and Halfway.
Seeing The Saints somewhere. An interesting note is that Artist Linda Dement, a mainstay of Cyberfeminism in the early 1990’s, who I hadn’t met yet, was in the Saints’ ‘Temple of the Lord’ music video.
Watching The Sunny Boys somewhere, Noosa maybe?
I attended parties in a line of terrace houses near William Terrace, these terraces were squats from memory. These events were filled with artists and musicians and the outsiders of society. It was fascinating to me as I was still very sheltered despite my early excursions into the alternative lifestyles of Brisbane in the 1981-82 period. There was a raw energy I was experiencing that was new to me. I couldn’t quite name it but I longed to live full-time in this world. The energy was of course, Creative Energy. It lit me up.
I filmed my first music video for a band at UQ, but now, looking back, I can’t recall their name.
Frequenting nightclubs in the Valley, when it was like New York’s Time Square or Sydney’s Kings Cross in the 70’s. I have vague recollections of dancing at The Beat, Hacienda Hotel, the Silver Dollar, Terminus and the Wickham Hotel. It was a dangerous area but I had no fear because, as I said before, I was already trained to endure the danger of living in Brisbane’s suburbs.
I was also oblivious to the criminal underground taking place there. When I was still attending high school I would frequent a cinema next to The Valley train station, The Valley Twin. With my best friend we would watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show over and over again. We had no idea we were walking through a red light district to get there. The Bathhouses, Bubbles, the secret places.
Punk entered my life in full force when I moved to Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1983. That’s where I met my soul mates. Punk is the great evener. No one cared what gender or sexual orientation or race you were. Punk encompassed and embraced all the outsiders of the world. If you had been an outsider in school, this is where you were an insider. The whole world should adopt this tenet of Punk.
Seeing The Saints somewhere. An interesting note is that Artist Linda Dement, a mainstay of Cyberfeminism in the early 1990’s, who I hadn't met yet, was in the Saints' 'Temple of the Lord' music video.
The Bjelke Peterson Regime, “The Police State” – the oppressive political backdrop, the state sanctioned vice and corruption you touch upon now: Tell me in some detail about this political climate in Queensland during the late 1970’s and early 1980s?
My parents weren’t politically conscious people, so my life growing up entailed other perceptions of the world. I have always been somewhat introspective so the political climate of the day made no impact on my young soul. I just went with the flow of what was happening politically in my world. My parents were my immediate Prime Ministers!
My focus was directed to the inner landscape of pain, since that is all I really knew. I was born into the Jo Bjelke Petersen Regime so I didn’t know anything that existed outside of this. The only impact changing governments made on me, was their different directives on arts funding. For example, when Bob Hawke came to power he instigated funding programs for women artists and filmmakers, which afforded me the opportunity to participate in the Premier’s Department programs, Technical Girls Collective and receive grants from the Women’s Film Fund of the Australian Film Commission when I was squatting in Darlinghurst.
I was more impacted by the endemic nature of misogyny and of male violence towards women, more than the prevailing Government at that time.
Tell me in some detail about what you witnessed of colleagues who were gay, lesbian or trans, what you witnessed about their ordeals with coming out and the oppression and prejudice you and they experienced in the Bjelke-Peterson Police State during this period?
I lived in a bubble. I was totally unaware of gay politics and oppression until later on when I lived in Sydney and matured and became more conscious of the world around me. I remember a boy in primary school calling me a ‘lesbian’ as a derogatory term. Neither of us knew what it actually meant. I called him a ‘lesbian’ back. And then I learnt that to be a ‘poofter’ was one of the worst sins in the world. All I knew was that all the abuse I received was from heterosexual males. Gay men don’t drive around in cars dragging young girls off the street and gang raping them.
I was recently shocked to read that homosexuality in Queensland, the sodomy laws the Labour Goss government changed in 1990 after the Bjelke Peterson regime, still apply. And I believe Gay Marriage is still illegal in Australia. I can see that the homophobia of Australian culture hasn’t changed one little bit. It’s 2015. This world bewilders me. Thank God I live in New York City, a melting pot of different sexual orientations, races, genders, religious and non-religious beliefs. No one here cares if you are gay, straight or otherwise.
Tell me about these direct lived experiences around Bullying, Brutality, and Violence while living in Brisbane?
School was a war zone. Boys were hitting me on the head when I was five years old in Infants School. I was sexually assaulted by a stranger at six, on my way home from school. The boys at both Primary and High School were constantly grabbing at me. I remember the Keperra Gang racing around terrorising girls in the suburbs. Sexual assault is the normal socialisation of the girl child in our society. One in three girls, and one in five boys, are sexually assaulted by a male family member before the age of 18.
I believe these statistics are low in reality. I made art about this for years. But nothing changes. And it got worse when I left school. A Taxi driver drove me to isolated part of the city one night, when I was coming home from a club in the Valley. There are too many incidences for me to recall, nor do I want to recall them. These experiences formed the core subject matter of my Art-making.
I was asked years later to participate in an exhibition about the murder of Anita Corby. The horror of the brutal rape and torture of a woman walking home in the suburbs from the train station resonated so profoundly within me. I could have so easily been Anita Cobby, many times over.
And of course one of the male artists asked to participate in this exhibition About Anita, chose to paint the perpetrators. So predictable. He wanted attention for being controversial, he got it.
Kinship: By way of a brief biography of your immediate family background?
I grew up in the suburbs of Brisbane into what one would term, a lower middle class family. My father was an artist, but chose to take a job in the Government to support his family. He was a photographer and a filmmaker (Super 8 filmmaking which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s), home movies were big and experimental filmmaking at home too, and my father liked film techniques like superimposition and printed his own Black and White photographic work in a darkroom he had set up in the back room.
In my childhood he would make Super 8 films of me acting out fairy tales and nursery rhymes. He also filmed New York in 1968 on a vacation there and I don’t know where the footage is. Super Eight film has left a wonderful impression. I remember it to be an amazing visual slice of New York street life, a treasure chest that I have since lost.
His creativity was also manifested in entering competitions with magnificent elaborate three-dimensional entries. He won many things over the years, many vacations overseas and weird objects.
Dad had long wanted to work in television and took me to many films in the beautiful old theatres of Brisbane, The Boomerang, The Regent, they all had great names. He would also take me to Arthouse cinemas and so I was introduced at a young age to the outside cultures through cinema. He was also a big traveller and adventurer, taking us to exotic places, Timor, the Pacific Islands, Europe and USA.
One of my fondest memories is driving over a hill and suddenly seeing the Manhattan skyscrapers. I was fifteen years old and totally mesmerized. This was in 1979 when New York was a dangerous place to visit and certainly not tourist friendly. I fell in love with that city right there and then. He took me to see the Broadway show, Dancin’. I stood over the subway grates like Marilyn Monroe and was absolutely thrilled.
I remember music being everywhere. It’s the same today. The most talented musicians in the world perform on streets and in the subways. Music blares out from cars and apartments. I am so grateful to my father for giving me such precious gifts. I had a life long dream of being an artist in New York City, and here I am. Thank you Dad and Mum.
One of my fondest memories is driving over a hill and suddenly seeing the Manhattan skyscrapers. I was fifteen years old and totally mesmerized. This was in 1979 when New York was a dangerous place to visit and certainly not tourist friendly. I fell in love with that city right there and then. He took me to see the Broadway show, Dancin'. I stood over the subway grates like Marilyn Monroe and was absolutely thrilled.
Where there others, other than family members, whom you considered your significant kinship, circle, the gay scene for example?
Punks were my family. Punks, artists, outsiders, the quiet ones sitting in the corner, the abused, the disenfranchised, anyone who wasn’t one of the ‘cool’ ones in school, the bookworms, the introverted, the damaged, the lost, the tortured bright ones, the loners, the depressed….
Art Education- Self-taught to Higher Education: Tell me about your early adult arts training and education?
I began my creative life as a dancer. I studied classical ballet from five years old. When I left high school I started taking classes in modern dance and jazz. It was my dream to become a professional dancer.
I was too tall for classical ballet as the boys needed petit dancers to pick up. But in modern dance I could be any height. I took classes at Kelvin Grove College and in the city. When I moved to Sydney in 1982 I began classes at the Sydney Dance Company under Paul Saliba’s tutelage.
I had also begun art classes at night so I could build a portfolio to apply for an art college. Because I had only taken academic classes in High school and University I had no concrete artwork. I knew I wanted to be an artist. It was in my blood but at age eighteen I was still discovering what medium suited me. I finally had to make a choice between dance and visual art. When I got accepted in to East Sydney Tech (Now the National Art School) I gave up dancing.
In the years 1983 and 1984 I went to night art classes in drawing and painting I also partook in a government funded project to teach young women how to make videos. This changed my life and led me to a life of a filmmaker. It was funded by Community Trans-Ed Program, Outreach-Randwick and the Women’s Co-ordination Unit (Video Section) of the Premier’s Department. It was supervised by Aquarius Youth Services in Darlinghurst. We made a video about unemployment for girls in school.
But I don’t think the Education department ever approved of it as it advocated creative unemployment…that was important for us at the time. Artist and Writer Barbara Karpinski was one of the members and I believe she went on to be a full time writer in the Arts world. From this group of girls we went on to be the Technical Girls Collective, and created a calendar and postcards and learnt many different art skills. I have shared some of these images here.
At East Sydney Tech I majored in painting but it was soon obvious that I had a predilection for photography. I do like the instant gratification of photography, as I could spend a year on a painting and still not be happy about it.
However my greatest and most profound education is always from other people.
I met Geoffrey Levy while I was at Technical Girls Collective. Geoffrey was an artist and a punk and one of the most amazing people I ever met. He introduced me to the work of Andre Gide, Jean Paul Sartre, Italo Calvino, Jean Rhys, Albert Camus, the Existentialists, Jim Carroll, and Herbert Selby Jr….. He taught me that everything was Art and that inspiration can come from anywhere, from a music video, a TV Show, a magazine article, a stranger you meet on the bus, not just an art gallery.
We spent magical months, making art, reading, writing, walking around Sydney, hanging out, going to nightclubs such as 45’s, Patches, the Exchange Hotel and Critter Canyon in Elizabeth Bay. And then Geoffrey killed himself.
My world fell apart and it took me a long, long time to recover from this loss.
But Geoffrey left me the legacy of making art to transmute pain. Another precious gift he gave me was introducing me to artist Linda Dement. I first met Linda sitting in the gutter in King’s Cross, having just got a tattoo of a blue dinosaur.
And it was this gutter meeting led to a life-long friendship and creative collaboration. Linda was my next wave of education. She introduced me to the writings of Anna Kavan, George Bataille, The French Feminists…. I participated in her production of experimental Super 8 films, and was the subject matter for her photography and book cover designs. In fact Linda is still educating me to this day. We have corresponded with each other since 1984 even when we lived in the same city. Linda still sends me new authors, and music and artists who she finds. She kept me afloat when I was in the pit of grief over Geoffrey’s death. And Linda keeps me afloat today.
In 1991, I was accepted into the Masters Program at University of NSW. I majored in photography and film. I made mural sized photographs, which I printed myself, with Linda’s help, in the gigantic darkroom they had in the basement. Thank God we are now digital!
I also studied video making, having the luxury of access to spectacular film and video equipment. In one of my classes after showing my film work, my lecturer asked a boy in the class what he thought about the work. His face was bright red and he said, “I’m thinking about how hard I would like to hit a ball with a baseball bat.” At one of my exhibitions in the art gallery there, a male left a death threat note on my work. …mmmmmm...
Geoffrey was an artist and a punk and one of the most amazing people I ever met. He introduced me to the work of Andre Gide, Jean Paul Sartre, Italo Calvino, Jean Rhys, Albert Camus, the Existentialists, Jim Carroll, and Herbert Selby Jr..... He taught me that everything was Art and that inspiration can come from anywhere, from a music video, a TV Show, a magazine article, a stranger you meet on the bus, not just an art gallery.
Tell me about the Technical Girls Collective in a bit more detail?
I can’t remember how I heard about the initial girl’s collective formed to produce a video. But it was certainly life changing. We were young and punk and wanted to make art.
Communication back then, was largely word of mouth on the streets and at parties and events. Margie Medlin was involved in this group as well. Margie became a well-known artist. All I remember about this time was the excitement of having found my soul group, and running around making art and dying my hair green.
I was living in a huge warehouse space on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, a very different Darlinghurst to today. My room was a loft bed built over the stairs. It was hair-raising to get in and out of it. I had met friends who lived in the Alpha and Beta Houses in Newtown. They were squats which housed a plethora of artists who would hold events and happenings.
Our headquarters for these two collectives was Aquarius Youth Services on Burton St, East Sydney from memory, a little old workman’s cottage made of stone. It was mouldy, dank and dark and I had the time of my life in there making art with others.
We also used Darlinghurst CYSS, which housed art equipment and facilities. Creativity was alive and well in inner Sydney in the early 80’s. Many of the projects were funded by Government agencies. And sitting in that ghost-ridden workman’s college is where I first laid eyes on Geoffrey, who had come with to visit Margie Medlin.
Geoffrey changed my life. He was the most instrumental person in affecting my life as an artist. Art-making lives in your blood, it is a 24/7 job. It doesn’t matter whether one’s work ever gets into a gallery or not. It may never been seen by anyone, until twenty years after you die and someone finds a box of your negatives in a garage sale and makes a book out of them.
Some of the girls from Technical Girl’s Collective continued to meet and wrote a film script, which was funded by the Women’s Film Fund of the Australian Film Commission, “With Inertia”.
“With Inertia” was eventually screened on SBS and made it to Berlin Film Festival and Melbourne Film Festival. It was a surreal snapshot of life in Darlinghurst in 1983. We had a twenty two strong all female crew. Which was great that so many women were learning skills in filmmaking, but I found interacting with twenty two other people incredibly stressful.
I prefer to work alone or collaborate with one other person. Otherwise there are too many egos clashing at once. And everyone’s childhood wounds are bashing their heads against each other.
There were three other very important artist run scenes occurring at this time. Nothing was really established or named or categorised into a neat package as it is today, terms like emerging artists or ARIs were not as commonplace as they are today.
These artist-run spaces organically came together. The streets were the internet. The Oasis, where I lived for a time, was the old Women’s Prison, where East Sydney Tech was housed. It was a beautiful 1800’s mansion which a mini jungle in the centre of it. It attracted the artists and outsiders. Everyone was a practicing artist with elaborately decorated rooms. One German artist built his room to match the inside of a heart. I lived in a room that was the servant’s quarters. I painted it all dark blue to match my blue mood.
The Gunnery was in Woolloomooloo where Artspace now stands. It was a large squat with no electricity and filled with artists and punks. It had been an old Navy training building and housed a round theatre on the top floor.
I remember going to the bathroom, which was a series of bathrooms, under a foot of water and in complete darkness. The Gunnery was divided up with sheets and canvases and other structures as walls. Hellen Rose Shausenberger lived and performed there. She has since gone on to become a well-known performer and filmmaker.
I would attend punk bands performing in the old theatre, which consisted of screeching metal on metal and screams and candle light. Armageddon! Hellen later ran a gallery that had been a funeral home and was shaped like a casket, at which both Linda Dement and I exhibited in. Artist Juilee Pryor ran Art Unit in Redfern another significant and lively ARI, a performance venue, studios and printmaking, so many screen printed posters produced there.
The other ARI’s were Alpha and Beta houses in Newtown. I was a regular visitor there but have few recollections of it. I do remember seeing a performance of Butchered Babies’ there, a gothic punk underground performance group led by the beautiful Wendy. Wendy was one of the most stunning girls I have ever met, who I believe is now a teacher of circus acrobats. Sometimes they would hold parties in the abandoned subways in Sydney. I would take my saxophone and screech out ugly free flowing sounds.
ARI collaborations aside, your “official” art school educators, visiting scholars or guest lecturer did they make an impact on you?
There wasn’t any educator at any of these institutions who made any real impact on me. They taught me skills. They gave me an art school controlled aesthetic. It took many years to shake off my art school training boundaries. I needed to unlearn.
I was mostly inspired by other artists, Geoffrey and Linda Dement in Australia. And the work of Lydia Lunch, Joel Peter Witkin and Nan Goldin here in the USA. And as Fate would have it, I am now collaborating with Lydia Lunch who brings such immense joy into my life, as a person and as an artist. And ironically Lydia Lunch’s photograph appears in one the pages of Technical Girls Collective’s calendar all those years ago.
I had no TV or phone or radio. No one did. I had no money to buy magazines.
I did have a turntable and would play Lou Reed over and over, The Blue Mask and Patti Smith’s Horses.
A couple of years ago I was smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant in New York and Lou Reed walked past me. He gave me a dirty look….hahahaha, I guess perhaps because I was smoking and he had given up. So I smiled at him and he smiled back. His music got me through a lot of pain in the 80’s so I was thrilled to have seen him in the flesh.
Popular culture most impacted me through films at the cinema. And via books from the library and from friends.
I’d spend endless hours researching Andy Warhol and everyone involved in his Factory scene. Edie Sedgwick entranced me.
Recently, I was fortunate to have met Bibbe Hansen, who was the youngest Andy Warhol Superstar and mother of Beck. She was a close friend of Edie, so I was able to get a first hand account of the true essence of Edie, and Andy and the other characters of this exceptionally creative time in New York City.
I remember seeing the film ‘Sid and Nancy’ at a beautiful old cinema in Sydney, which no longer exists. Most of the audience were in the bathroom smoking. It was incredible to see my sub-culture up on screen.
And finally Punk has made it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York! That means punk is truly over. My opinion of Punk is that it began and died with Sid and Nancy in the Chelsea Hotel, although I know many people would argue with this. New Yorkers say Punk began with Jayne County and the New York Dolls and Malcolm McLaren stole it and marketed it back in London.
And the idea and growing tendency of DIY in the 1980’s, a 1970’s punk tendency perhaps?
I was mostly rejected by the mainstream art world because of my subject matter, the sexual assault of women and children and the impact of these experiences on their lives. That kind of art isn’t a valuable commodity.
I saw a lecture by Lydia Lunch at Metroscreen in Paddington in 1997 the one she gave about NO-Wave films in New York City. She said: “Don’t wait for funding or approval by the powers that be, just make the work.”
Amazing and I have followed this advice ever since. Lydia has NEVER received funding by an Arts Body, neither has Penny Arcade. They just make the work.
I had received funding from traditional funding bodies, AFC, NAVA and the Australia Council, which I was incredibly grateful for. But my subject matter continues to be a major block in receiving funding in the last decade, or maybe it’s not that, maybe I’m just not a very good artist…hahahaha.
And I’m certainly dreadful in writing applications. I don’t have a grip on that kind of Art Language, so I’m doomed.
Tell me in some detail about your participation in the Political Theatre scene in Brisbane at La Bamba (late nights at La Boite, you mentioned La Boite a little earlier, Rock and Roll Circus and related theatres or performing arts groups at the time, perhaps?
True, I volunteered as a dresser at La Boite Theatre in 81/82. I was still a teenager and didn’t know yet what route I wanted to take as an artist. I just wanted to be involved in the art world somehow. All I really learnt from this period is that some actors have huge difficult egos!
You mentioned that walking the streets in Sydney, and in London and New York as a teenager, was where you began many of your life long networks, tell me in some detail about the role share houses played for you at the time in terms of artist networks?
For a while I lived with artist and performer Zoe Long in the Bakers Dozen in Darlinghurst. Zoe was a phenomenal creative talent and way ahead of her time. She performed in the gay bars on Oxford Street in the early 80’s.
No one knew if she was a girl or a boy.
Zoe dressed as Nosferatu day and night with a shaved head. On the few occasions when we were awake during the day and walking around, she would horrify passer-bys. Once a group of office girls were staring at her and saying derogatory things so she chased them into a building.
Once a little boy with a bald head from cancer treatment came up to her in the street and asked her if she had cancer too? She answered that she shaved her head because she liked it. His broad smile made our day.
I would photograph Zoe and attend all her performances. We were indeed vampires, living only at night. Other drag performers would visit the house and I would photograph them too. Madam Lash is another. They were all incredibly talented artists and lived day and night creating costumes and performances.
The impact of HIV AIDs on you around this time?
I think AIDS was identified as a disease publicly in Australia around 1984. It had been a reality since 1981 here in NYC.
With HIV AIDS our world became like the Vietnam War. The carnage was traumatic and widespread. So many beautiful and talented artists died horrible and lonely deaths.
And we also had to contend with the barrage of public opinion and horror bestowed upon HIV positive people. Homophobia was rampant, not that it has ever disappeared from Australian culture, and the spectre of HIV AIDS gave homophobes license to be violent.
I have witnessed horribly violent incidences at the Sydney Lesbian Gay Mardi Gras parade. Things I wish I didn’t still have imprinted on my memory. I also remember gangs of heterosexual boys coming in from the suburbs and attacking gay men with baseball bats. I was attacked by skinheads on Oxford Street when I was just walking along with a female friend.
Your Pre Sydney Exodus: So many creatives left Queensland during this 1980’s period, for you it was the malevolent series of male violence and attack against women, where there other contributing cultural factors of this Bjelke Peterson regime era?
I also left Brisbane because I couldn’t deal with the extreme conservatism of that city. Also I was a teenager and wanted to leave home. I wanted to go to New York but instead I chose Sydney. It was absolutely the right move for me.
Within a short amount of time I found my soul mates, other punks and artists and musicians. A whole new world opened for me. I found people who accepted me for being me.
I was free of the judgmental nature of the people I went to school and QLD UNI with. I blossomed. We are social creatures and we all need somewhere to belong. And I found my society in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
Read more about Jasmine here >
Jasmine Hirst - The Ephemera INTERVIEWS