Currently working as an artist in Berlin, in 2013 Gabriella Hirst took on the Power Institute’s Terrence and Lynette Fern Cité Residency. Hirst was fresh out of art school, and the goal of her residency was to develop a body of work which stemmed from her research into the history/myth of Marie Angelique Memmie Leblanc, a French enfant sauvage from the 1700s. Working on the ground in Paris, where Leblanc once lived, Hirst was able to trace the remaining fragments of her subject’s story and piece together a narrative from which she created her body of work.
‘The residency was in close proximity to the national archives where I undertook a large portion of my research,’ explains Gabriella. ‘The street where my subject supposedly lived was ten minutes walk from the Cité Internationale. I was able to create a kind of tenuous archeology of this person. The coexistence of history, fiction and the present in this part of the city was greatly inspiring and has influenced the work that I made.’
In the creative atmosphere of the Cité, Hirst was not only able to develop her own work, but witness how all the other Cité artists conducted their studio practices and regimes: their self-structured days, time-management, etcetera. ‘This sort of information, experienced firsthand, was incredibly helpful for me as an artist fresh out of art school. I learnt a great deal from all these other artists, most of them far more professionally experienced than myself.’
During her time in the Cité, she also made life-long artist friends and collaborators: ‘The Cité is such a wonderful community of people from all over the world, artists, composers, dancers, curators, all living in this little island, in this strange situation of being able to focus exclusively on their art projects. I now live in Berlin, and have for two years, and the artists I met in Paris are some of my closest friends here,’ says Hirst.
Hirst’s time in Paris kickstarted her international career, and she has spent the last three years abroad, developing her work, resulting in a number of projects and international collaborations. ‘Most of the opportunities I have received in this period stem back to the people I met and encounters I had in these first three months in Cité. Some artist friends I made in Paris who also usually live in Berlin have included me in projects here, have introduced me to their circles, who then have become my circles. The cite places you in the midst of such a range of interesting people, they seem to turn up again, sooner or later.’
It was not only the people Hirst met but also the contemporary art exhibitions she saw while in Paris that turned her thinking and way of working upside down: ‘All these encounters have influenced my career as it is now,’ says Hirst who is just about to start a masters at the Slade in London. ‘The project I completed whilst undertaking the Power Institute residency was part of my portfolio, and also many less direct influences from my initial stay in Paris certainly have lead me to this next step in my practice/career,’ she says. ‘Without exaggerating, I can say that the Power Institute Cité residency was a truly wonderful experience that has had unquantifiable impact upon my life and art practice thus far.’