Darling Darling

Australia, 2020

Gabriella Hirst
Two-channel video installation, digital video, sound, 25:30 mins.
SanDisk Memory Card, gold leaf, in collaboration with Barbara Dabrowa, AGNSW Senior Conservator of Fine Arts – Frames
Courtesy the artist
Ian Potter Moving Image Commission, ACMI Collection

Artwork ACMI commissions Objects and artworks

Darling Darling presents two contrasting but linked responses to the idea of conservation. One side of the screen shows the meticulous care taken to restore WC Piguenit’s prized 1895 painting of the Barka-Darling River, The flood in the Darling, 1890, while the other side reveals the present-day neglect of the river itself. Excess upstream water diversion and climate change have contributed to severe water scarcity and mass fish kills in recent years.

In composing her shots of the river, Hirst references Australia’s beloved landscape painting tradition, and colonial-era artists like Eugene von Guérard, John Glover, Conrad Martens, Nicholas Chevalier, Ludwig Becker and of course, WC Piguenit. While their romantic paintings capture a sense of nature as awe inspiring, they also served the more material purpose of framing resources to be owned and exploited by European settlers, a visual expression of the concept of terra nullius.

Darling Darling invites us to question the role played by Western visual art traditions in shaping the value systems that allow such an extreme environmental crisis to unfold right before our eyes.

Gabriella Hirst (she/her) is an artist. She was born and grew up on Cammeraygal land (Australia) and is currently living between Berlin and London. She works primarily with moving image, performance, and with the garden as a site of critique and care. Gabriella’s practice and research explores connections between various manifestations of capture and control – spanning plant taxonomies, landscape painting, art conservation and nuclear history.

Curator notes

The pairing of the films in Darling Darling does not simply contrast our ability to inflict great damage on the material world with our capacity to nurture and protect it, but also suggests that these behaviours are interconnected. Darling Darling’s soundscape seems to confirm this as the two worlds sonically bleed into one another. The measured tones of the art conservators at work seep into environmental sounds of the outback; the gentle squeal of trolley wheels crossing tiled floors intermingles with magpie warbles, the buzz of a hand drill punctuates the soft rustle of dried leaves.

The convergence of ecological and art historical narratives in Darling Darling suggests the absurdity of a cultural logic that appears to value representations of the natural world over nature itself. The care and damage depicted are revealed as manifestations of the same anthropocentric worldview that has long underpinned Western colonial thought and history.

In the era of the Anthropocene, defined by the irreversible impact of human activity on Earth’s systems and processes, the legitimacy of our rule over the natural world is under sustained scrutiny. The catastrophic bushfires that tore through much of Australia over the summer of 2019-20, followed closely by the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, have brought our interdependence with the natural world into stark relief. Many of us have emerged from these events feeling fragile and disorientated as we learn to live in a state of uncertainty – the illusion of our mastery over our world and our own lives diminished, if not fully vanquished.

– Curator Shelley McSpedden

This is an extract of the longer essay When the river runs dry: on Darling Darling by Gabriella Hirst, which you can read below.

Gabriella Hirst on 'Darling Darling'

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In ACMI's collection

Previously on display

14 June 2021

ACMI: Gallery 3



Gabriella Hirst


Sam Smith


Bridget Ikin



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Digital Art





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Two-channel video installation, digital video, sound and gilded SD card


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If you would like to cite this item, please use the following template: {{cite web |url=https://acmi.net.au/works/118152--darling-darling/ |title=Darling Darling |author=Australian Centre for the Moving Image |access-date=24 July 2024 |publisher=Australian Centre for the Moving Image}}