Nicky Hirst revels in serendipity. She seems to enjoy the random, the not quite, the newly formed yet familiar. It’s the basis of her Algorithms show at the Exeter Phoenix. She has created 12 works inspired by 12 anagrams of the word ‘algorithms’. Considering the work is a freeing experience that allows your imagination to lightly skip across an undergrowth of rules and definitions, making new connections for a brand new wonder.
If you get the chance, read the text commissioned for the exhibition by Wellcome curator James Peto, written in response to various conversations with Nicky in her in my studio during May/June 2019. [We’d pop you a link if we had one.]
We asked Nicky about the show and how it came about…
ArtsCulture: What led you into Algorithms?
Nicky Hirst; It is a word that has intrigued me for a while in relation to social media, buying online etc. I initially needed to look up the definition to find out what people were talking about. When I read this definition – An algorithm is a list of rules to follow in order to solve a problem or a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations. Like a recipe – idea – ingredients – method – outcome – finite – I thought it sounded like creating an exhibition, and that was the task I was facing at the time. I guess that explains a little of the serendipity bit too – being open to suggestion.
ArtsCulture: The show is a response to 12 anagrams of the word Algorithms – how did you create and decide on the Algorithms.
Nicky Hirst: It turns out that the word Algorithms is full of poetry. (Initially I was going to call the show Sehnsucht because I love that there is no accurate translation in English for the German word – just a sense) but Sehnsucht has very few anagrams within it. I chose anagrams that worked poetically and created pictures in my mind.
ArtsCulture: The blurb on the show talks about your work being ‘an exploration of serendipity that can occur in unintended and unexpected places’. How did that work for Algorithms?
Nicky Hirst: I think the serendipity thing is about trying to remain open at all times to chance encounters and connections.
ArtsCulture: You’re Instagram accounts are fascinating places – how useful has that medium been to further your practice. And how does technology sit as one of the many mediums you employ?
Nicky Hirst: Thank you. Instagram has been great for me as somewhere to put the photos I have always intuitively taken. I like hash tagging them so that I can make further visual collections or archives to refer to – such as #accommodate63 #nothere63 #tile63 I don’t really think about the technology. It feels like a note book/ sketchbook. Because it’s in my hand it feels intimate/private even though I have a public account – I’m constantly surprised when someone makes a comment on Instagram 😀 . I take all my photos on my iPhone because its so accessible and fuss free.
ArtsCulture: You were in Exeter back in 2011 for The Shuffle of Things, at RAMM an exhibition capturing the essence of scents in glass. How has your work changed since then. And do you have a scent that reminds of you Exeter, Devon or the South West?
Nicky Hirst: I’m impressed you know that work! Sadly it’s not on show at RAMM at the moment. It was so interesting to get the evocative smell feedback via the museum mailing list and I still have all the postcards that were returned with the stories handwritten on them. I don’t have particular smell that evokes Devon for me, but if I did I imagine it would be to do with holidays and something food related.
ArtsCulture: As a staple question I like to ask about the role of the artist in society (which you’re welcome to answer!), but I was thinking about your work for the Coventry Biennial 2019, The Twin. Does serendipity enhance or undermine collaboration and togetherness?
Nicky Hirst: I think serendipity enhances everything. I think of it as delightful and creative when apparently unrelated things are somehow connected. I have a series of works called Elementals which I will be showing in the Coventry Biennial. I pair two unrelated images and make a new association. When making them I try and forget about what the images are and look at the colours, shapes, contradictions and scale.
ArtsCulture: And finally, back to your exhibition at the Exeter Phoenix, out of the 12 anagrams, which one is your favourite?
Nicky Hirst: Grail Moths – it’s two words I have never heard together before yet it’s somehow familiar.
ArtsCulure: Thanks for your time, Nicky
Algorithms is at the Exeter Phoenix from Saturday, July 13 to Sunday, September 8, 2019. Entry is free. Nicky Hirst is giving an artist talk at the exhibition preview on Saturday, July 13 from 3-5pm. Free.