Gabriella Hirst

Gabriella Hirst's Darling Darling (2020) considers the distribution of care and conservancy in Australia as political effects: expressions of colonial and capitalist attitudes towards the land. The product of the Ian Potter Moving Image Commission for 2020, this work re-articulates, in an Australian context, concerns with ecology and power which have interested Hirst throughout her career.

The title of Hirst’s new work, Darling Darling, is double-edged. We might call somebody ‘darling’ affectionately, of course – but repeat the phrase and the tone shifts to something either more like a taunt or a plaintive cry. Considering the uneven distribution of care, conservation efforts, and reparative work through the Australian landscape – and equally, through our historical archive – Hirst’s moving images shift through the emotive registers of affection, sharp criticism, and the registry of loss.

One channel of the video follows restorative and conservative work upon W.C. Piguenit’s The Flood in the Darling 1890 (1895), held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Piguenit’s painting practice emerged from his work as a draughtsman with the Department of Land’s survey office, which is to say the paint pools on his canvas from this and a number of other institutional tributaries. All of these are bound up, in some way, with the colonial project: his painting engages with European Romantic notions of the sublime in nature, with the official modes of recording and making sense (and capital) of the land in nineteenth-century Australia under colonial government, and with the generic conventions of landscape painting as a European tradition.

Hirst’s second channel juxtaposes the reverence afforded to Piguenit’s painting during its recent conservation with the lack of care in the basin of the Barka-Darling River today, as it languishes through a severe water scarcity. Meticulously composed images of the river might recall, formally, the Salon-orderly landscapes of John Glover or Eugene von Guérard. Turning an eye to the ecology of the River, though, Hirst cannot but attend, with the lens, to the upstream diversions of water, the exploitation of the land as resource, and the mass fish kills which mar the region’s recent history. This is no order, but disorder; and, unlike the flood of 1890, it is anthropogenic.

Darling Darling follows much of Hirst’s recent work in exploring histories of power, politics, and control as they are articulated on and through the environment.  How To Make a Bomb (2015-ongoing), for example, sees Hirst graft and cut specimens of a nearly-extinct species of garden rose, created and named ‘Rosa Atom Bomb’ in 1953, before redistributing the specimens around the UK in a gesture towards the propagation of Cold War narratives and fear mongering in the mid-twentieth century. Elsewhere, The Winner Takes it All/Siren Song (2020) splices together  Eurovision songs and recordings from the ruins of the Cretan city of Aptera, resonating as a mournful reflection on the project of the European Union from the artist, who is often based in the U.K. One intervention of Darling Darling, then, is to turn this historical eye towards the artist’s home country of Australia.

The work is the product of the Ian Potter Centre Moving Image Commission for 2020. With this commission, Hirst follows Angelica Mesiti and Daniel Crooks, and her work will be accessioned to the ACMI collection.

Darling Darling
11 February – 30 May 2021
ACMI, Melbourne

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