Gabriella Hirst is an artist exploring the place of intimacy and the personal within the institutional. She is interested in the labour involved in the upkeep of illusions of permanence, with specific reference to gardening, art conservation and archive maintenance. Working across video, performance, ceramics, sound and poetry, she is inspired by cinematic tropes, slapstick routines and romantic clichés. She was shortlisted for the Ivan Juritz Prize in 2018.
I entered the Ivan Juritz prize in my last year of an MFA program in fine art media at the Slade. I was intrigued by how the award placed together different disciplines of art, poetry, writing and music, allowing them to sit side by side. Although I’m predominantly a visual artist, I bounce back and forth between different disciplines. My sculptural and video work is informed by a creative writing/poetry practice, amateur musicianship leaks into performances, and I find great freedom in using the blanket idea of an art practice to skip across various disciplines which can be tried on like coats, avoiding any specific mastering of a craft. So it was a thrill when I found myself as the visual arts finalist alongside some incredible poets and composers, all of us seemingly coming from formally different disciplines, some more classical, some more experimental, yet thrown in together in a kind of creative soup.
Of course, not everybody has such a mongrel approach to their work, and so on the evening of the award ceremony it was also a wonderful experience to meet those who are excelling in fields with which I do not find myself crossing over so frequently and experience samples of their work. All of the judges are incredible voices in their fields but it was a particular honor to have been judged by Gillian Wearing, whose practice has been enduringly inspirational for me. The dinner following the awards ceremony was somewhat surreal, in the depths of Somerset House at the table with individuals from across visual, musical and literary arts whose work has been and continues to inform my own trajectory. It was a thrill be thrown together with such an inspirational mix of people within this historic building, and I’m very grateful to The Ivan Juritz Prize and team for providing this experience.
As a finalist, I was given the opportunity to spend two weeks at Cove Park in Scotland, an artist residency just outside of Glasgow. I had just completed my degree a month or so beforehand and was still coming down from the adrenaline and stress of the final show. And so I went to Cove Park without a specific project in mind to develop or finalize, but instead with the aim of giving myself time to read, write and draw, of letting thoughts and ideas on which I had not had the time to focus during the last months of my degree emerge and settle. Cove Park provides an almost absurdly ideal environment for contemplation. It’s the most romantic setting one could imagine: residents are provided with self-contained studios with windows that look out upon an expansive, rugged view of Loch Long and the mountains which rise up from the waters edge. The light outside changes by the minute and the whole scene will shift, so much so that I started to feel guilty when I wasn’t watching it, like I would miss some vital moment – when I would tune back in the whole scene would have changed.
The central working building, which has even more romantic views upon the surrounding scenery is decked out with a generous library and minimalist fireplace. I read and wrote and drew and walked and had long generative conversations with the other residents. It’s so quiet- one night fireworks went off in an invisible town across the bay and the sound ricocheted again and again back and forth across the water so that the source of them was only evident by the reflected flashes of light on low lying clouds.
In this otherwise tranquil, idyllic setting, we would joke about feeling like we were in some kind of 1960s spy outpost, a feeling which was only intensified by occasional sight of a trident nuclear submarine rising to the surface of the waters in the loch below before slipping back underneath – an eerie reminder that Cove Park is the direct neighbor of Faslane, the base of the UK’s nuclear armed submarines. The overwhelmingly beautiful, pristine setting paired with the gravity of the neighboring military base formed, for me, a particular tension, which eventually informed a line of creative inquiry- not specifically into the submarine base but into a broader investigation into tenderness and power. Within this setting I was able to draw together ideas of gardening, nuclearity and geological time, especially after a visit to Cove Park’s other significant neighbor, the Lynn Park Gardens, a family-run botanical garden one of the most bio-diverse places in Scotland.
The particular paradigm presented by being sandwiched between these two centres of care- one of plant specimens, the other of weaponry clarified a framework within which I was able to weave together disparate thoughts and ideas from the previous year. This framework has been the basis for my projects since leaving the residency, including a research project which I am now working on in relationship with Art Action UK, and Goldsmiths Nuclear Culture Department. And so, from plans of non-action, a new body of work is emerging. But more than this specific outcome, the period of quiet and reflection which I was so lucky to be gifted by the Ivan Juritz Prize, allowed me to filter and absorb a great deal of the input I had received during my intense two years of post-graduate studies. The entire experience of the Ivan Juritz Prize had this similar attention, one of care and support, and I look forwards to continuing this dialogue with those who provided these valued experiences.
About the Ivan Juritz Prize
The Ivan Juritz Prize was established in 2014 to celebrate the creative explosion of the modernist era and reward art that seeks to ‘make it new’. Postgraduate students throughout Europe either from traditional academic disciplines or from creative courses are invited to submit texts, films, musical compositions, virtual documentation of artwork, excerpts of moving image work and proposals for installation and performance. Entrants are encouraged to play with form to make us think, feel and question. The prize is a collaboration between the Centre for Modern Literature and Culture at King’s College London and Cove Park, Scotland’s International Artist Residency Centre. In 2019 winners in three categories (text, image, sound) will receive £1000 and spend the first two weeks of September at Cove Park, engaging in a residency and showcase. All shortlisted works are given a public performance at the prize-giving and are written up in the journal Textual Practice.
Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.
If you have any comments on this interview please use the ‘Comments’ section of this blog post.
You may also like to read:
- On the trail of Doris Lessing
- From broadcast to podcast: Reflections on radio, resistance, and legacies of the BBC World Service
- Prize winning responses to modernism