Murphy & Cadogan Artist Interview: Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill

Gabrielle Hill

“A bitch always smokes,” 2016. Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill. Photo by Kelly Wu.

You say in your artist statement that you’re interested in exploring the histories embedded in objects. Have you done similar creative investigations of other objects, or are tobacco leaves the first in a series?
I have done other similar projects, actually. I first began to think about objects in this way when I began a work called Waste Land, a project where I collected objects from a certain tract of land in Vancouver, the city I’m from, and began to investigate the area using the objects as clues and signs. By thinking about the objects I found, (most of them having to do with the underground economies that take place there including metal salvaging and can collecting), I really began to understand new things about the way people occupy land, the way we insist on living despite various waves of dispossession.

What do you hope gallery visitors will walk away with after seeing your work?
I hope that the happiness I get from making art comes through, and I hope people will feel excited to make things themselves, to think about the world through making because it feels good and it is also a way to learn.

Is there a specific audience that you’re hoping to reach with your work?
No. I think different people bring different experiences with them when they look at art, and all ways of appreciating art are good.

You’re originally from Canada. What made you want to come to the Bay Area for your MFA program?
I first came to San Francisco when I was 8 years old. My mom took us to Alcatraz to teach us about the Red Power movement and the activists and artists who took over the island in the late 60s. At the time, I was more interested in the stories of all the prisoners, how they grew flowers against all odds, or dug their way out with spoons, or got eaten by white sharks. As an adult, I still like to know about the lives of the various prisoners on Alcatraz, but I also feel pretty reverent about the history of the Indians of All Tribes, AIM, and the Black Panthers in the Bay Area.

What similarities or differences have you noticed about how US artists make work vs. Canadian artists?
The major difference I see is economic. The lack of federal funding for the arts and the robust art market means everyone really works toward getting representation and selling work more than artists in Canada. The catastrophic price of rent in this city also means that young people aren’t running their own spaces the way people still manage to do where I’m from, so many artists I meet have never put together their own show and rely on galleries to get their work out. Besides that, there are many similarities. I’ve met a lot of incredibly talented, weird, cool people since I’ve moved here.

What do you hope to achieve next in your career? What big dreams and goals do you have for your creative work?
I have a show at Stride Gallery in Calgary with Patrick Cruz next September so I’ll be working towards that this coming year, but there are so many things I want to do. I’m making a video with three other Indigenous artists, Tania Willard, Chandra Melting Tallow, and Jeneen Frei Njootli, where we’ll be trapping rabbits in a public park in Vancouver. I also am hoping to film a script that my friend Ivan is writing right now, it’s an action movie, and I want to film it with all of my friends playing the parts and making the props together. Liz Magor defines art as doing your own assignments, so my hope is that I get to do that as much as possible in this life, that I get to continue to be in a community of people who help each other live that way.

What opportunities or new questions have you been allowed to explore because of your MFA experience? What advice would you give artists considering an MFA?
My favorite moments in my MFA have been the ones where my instructors really pushed me to to think harder and challenged me to grow. I am in a process of undoing and rebuilding everything right now. I would advise artists to expand their practice as much as possible outside of school before applying — put on your own shows, start a band, go to lots of events, all of this will help you get into a school and will help you get a good financial package.

About Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill:

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill works with objects and materials to trace the histories and knowledges held by things, as well as their relationship to larger, overarching systems like economic, political, ideological, and environmental processes. She is a second year MFA student at California College of the Arts and a recipient of the prestigious Cadogan Scholarship.

About the Interviewer:

Sarah Pritchard is SOMArts’ Director of Communications and Strategy. They are also a dancer, choreographer and organizer based in Oakland, CA.