Something Else 16 June w Ella Hirst + afterthoughts

Cross-posted from but with added material. As these things go, my original fairly short post has turned into a rather long and detailed post with some thoughts about Gabriella’s work. Thanks for reading. By Justine Poon.

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Today Justine spoke to Gabriella Hirst, a Sydney artist with an upcoming group show at ESP Gallery, which also features Something Else contributors Kath Lim and Lauren Carroll Harris.

Gabriella started off as a painter and ended up moving further and further away from the walls. Her recent works involves layers of silk with images of bone, flowers and faces appearing through one another, evoking ghosts, savagery, gentility and anatomical drawings, drawing from her research into 18th Century feral child Marie-Angelique Memmie LeBlanc. Displayed in heavy wooden boxes that both separate and unify the images into one, the visual ambiguity of the pieces are impossible to resolve.

You can find Gabriella’s website here:

My own interests have recently been in the bed of poetics (perhaps more specifically, an ontological poetics), which involves a lot of fumbling and confusion at times with moments of clear brain-fucked clarity. Poetics deals with the being of language, of man as a creature that dwells in language, with the proposition that there is nothing before language and that it is always possible (but never there) to find your way back to the origin. A way to make the world. If man is a technological creature, the way he can speak is important. Language is the technology that makes us.

But who will listen these days, even if a modern Prometheus of words was to arise, offering some new world to be dwelled in?

Perhaps poetics is too undetermined. It seems to be anything at all sometimes. I haven’t the slightest idea what it is and yet I seem to write about it constantly both for uni (quite successfully) and for myself (much less so).

Poetics, you are sadly obscure when dwelled in words no one understands.

Which is why the bristles on the back of my neck (a good indicator of danger or mad beauty) prick up when something so immediate as a painting seems to be doing something very poetical. Here I must make the point I have been trying to make in a roundabout way in the previous paragraphs – I am not an art critic, theorist, scholar nor thinker but I will talk about art in this instance because it has interested me.

Hirst’s recent work, particular her gouache on silk works, layered upon one another, work with history, savagery and wild beauty. They are impossibly photographic in that the detail of the images is precise, factual, and yet they also look like things that no camera could ever have captured, like sepia x-rays from a once-off steampunk invention designed to look into a person’s soul and then quickly destroyed after for the chaotic intimacy it revealed.

"Falling Teeth" - Gabriella Hirst
Image: Falling Teeth (m.a.m.l)
It is not just the layering, nor just the juxtapositions. These techniques are common in art. Perhaps I have already partially answered my own question (being: what is it about these works that stop me?). I appreciate the historical and conceptual detail, the weight of research, the significance of using silk (Leblanc went from feral child to silk flower maker in her later life) and the sheer technique (pun both intended and not intended) involved. These things for me give the works the detail and a sense of captured chaos that makes them so arresting.
And perhaps, in part, it is a frustration with so much art (and so much writing) made by young people today that lacks a sense of hard work, caught up instead with trying to project images of genius or personality that have nothing to do with the work itself… but that is another rant, another time.
There are other visceral reactions too and I go back to my earlier ramblings about poetics. The layered images are always coming through each other, not as a process of transformation of one thing into another but like the elements of an idea in a state of becoming and yet what is coming? Everything and all at once –  a dangerous place to be. The control fascinates because the savage promise of the images might be fulfilled at any moment, contained at all times by sheets of filmy silk only.


17th June- 2nd of July (Thurs and Fri 3pm-6pm, Sat and Sun 11am-4pm)

4- 6pm, Saturday the 18th of July- opening drinks with the artists and live music

An immersive exhibition of all new work by emerging Sydney artists-

Renuka Fernando

Lauren Carroll Harris

Romy Caen

Gabriella Hirst

Jack Stahel

Katherine Lim

“In the Woods” explores the nature of the wild in relation to contemporary society and the dialogues that exist between humanity and wilderness.

Each artist’s work encompasses a diverse reaction to the theme, from explorations of physical territory and space, to the creation of internal, psychological landscapes. The artists’ paintings, sculptures, sound and installation works have been curated so as to convert the gallery into an immersive, experiential “forest of artworks”, to encourage audiences to journey through the space, and absorb the relationships that play between each artist’s work.

For more info please visit

or email