Meet the Soho House Art Prize winner

woman standing on balcony

Kate Bryan, Soho House’s Global Head of Collections, talks to Sarah Hardie, the Scottish-Italian artist whose theatre, opera and dance-inspired work caught the judges’ eye

By Kate Bryan

This interview was written prior to the cancellation of Miami Art Basel 2020. A new plan for a physical installation or digital preview of Sarah Hardie’s artwork is in discussion.

When we launched the inaugural Soho House Art Prize with Bombay Sapphire in June, we asked artists to submit a great idea; something we could help make a reality via mentoring and a production fund. The goal was to create a presentation at Soho Beach House Miami during Basel week. Myself and my fellow judges – Maria Balshaw, director of Tate and the artist Hebru Brantley – were overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of the submissions. We heard from an incredible, global line-up of talent and the applications ranged from the surreal, to the political, to the absurd. I was struck by how many artists wanted to make work that brought people together and had a distinct social message to convey.

After much deliberation, we have awarded the prize to Sarah Hardie. Scottish-Italian, Hardie is based in London and captured our imaginations with her project. Tightly conceived, specific to the locale and with an exciting element of the unknown, we are thrilled that she is going to be making her complex and distinctive idea a reality. We are keeping the specifics of her project under wraps for now, but I asked her about her background, education and influences.

People standing as part of a group singing performance.
People standing as part of a group singing performance.
People standing as part of a group singing performance.

Congratulations on winning the Soho House Art Prize with Bombay Sapphire. Please tell us about your work. Where did you grow up and what did you study?

‘I’m a Scots-Italian artist and have lived in London for the past nine years. I moved here directly after graduating from a joint history of art and “painting” degree, MA (Hons) fine art, from the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art to undertake the MA history of art course at The Courtauld Institute of Art. There, I studied under Professor Mignon Nixon who specialises in contemporary art, and psychoanalyst and scholar Professor Juliet Mitchell, one of the founders of the second-wave feminist movement. It was incredibly inspiring studying under these women and, indeed, amazing female tutors at Edinburgh. My year of research into the representation of love and the voice in contemporary art production at The Courtauld would, a few years later, feed directly into the opera I made for Bold Tendencies and the V&A museum, leading me here to another opportunity of a lifetime.’

You don’t make traditional wall-based art – can you explain the kind of work you make and your medium?

‘I have a research-based, performance art practice and am particularly interested in working with the voice, given its emotive and communicative potential. I’ve sung all my life, as my mum is a trained opera singer. But, it wasn’t until I began procrastinating over making a painting at art school, and showing my tutor Nathalie de Briey my sketches – which were short videos of me singing – that we realised I should try making works with my voice. Since then, I’ve made song cycles, and most recently a contemporary, psychoanalytic verbatim opera. This involves pulling fragments from famous texts to form a narrative of the self in relation to the other through voice and movement in space. I can be fairly irreverent with traditional tropes of art, getting what I need from different artistic traditions. These include theatre, opera, literature, painting and dance, to create works that communicate my ideas most effectively.’

What kind of stories and concepts appeal to you? Can you give an example?

‘My practice considers ideas surrounding the human voice, currently in terms of what I read as the amorous politics of the voice, espoused by Roland Barthes and Donald Winnicott, in particular. Via the opera, I wrote site-specifically for Hannah Barry’s Bold Tendencies (the multi-storey car park-turned-art space in London’s Peckham) commissioned by the Polyglot Societie and supported by Arts Council England. I questioned whether voicing in itself is a loving act or merely a delusional escape from solitude. It was ultimately about the resilience of self, despite what I termed “the failure of the contemporary lover” and the “friend as self” (perhaps the definition of the echo chamber).’

Where do you find inspiration?

‘My work is research-based, generally. So, everything from academic texts, literature, poetry and TV series to Google searches taking me God knows where inspire me: the world in other words.’

Is your work socially motivated?

‘Yes, it is. I feel driven to share my thoughts and ideas with audiences in an accessible and emotive way. I do this in the hope that it gives the audience what I have experienced through engaging with art: a feeling of being known, understood, and validated. Or otherwise, entering into an understanding of another person that I did not have before. Either way, it is a feeling of communion, of not being alone. While making is, to a greater or lesser extent, an act of narcissism, it’s also an act of generosity, vulnerability and trust: love, in other words.’

What artists inspire and influence you?

‘I love so many artists’ work: Bob and Roberta Smith, whom I performed for in his Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition with The Grey Gallery in 2009, This Artist Is Deeply Dangerous. And Meredith Monk, whom I performed with in the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival in her Songs Of Ascension (both opportunities were massively influential on my work). Other artists I’m inspired by include: David Austen and his work End Of Love. It’s probably been the most important reference to my art practice and research.

What do you find hardest about being a young artist right now? And what advice would you give to someone starting out?

‘What isn’t hard about being a young artist? But it’s life and we wouldn’t have it any other way. When you get opportunities like this, it all becomes worthwhile. I do worry about the government’s systemic devaluing of arts, though, as this will have lasting implications for future generations of makers and serve only to increase the exclusivity of an already exclusive sector.

‘And I’m no expert, but to my fellow young artists I’d say: 
Don’t take no for an answer – problem-solve around it.
Learn how to fundraise and produce your own work. 
Don’t expect anything to come to you; be prepared to make it all happen yourself if you need to. 
But do ask for help where you need it, and incorporate and collaborate with brilliant artists you admire. 
Trust your gut. 
Support other artists, especially those who have found it harder to enter our sector.
Remember it’s a privilege to be given a platform to be able to communicate with many people outside of your own bubble. Use it well.’

What will the next five months look like for you?

‘Busy. I’m hoping I’ll manage to take one or two trips to Miami to do some initial site-specific ground work and research, meet with some Miami women, art spaces, and community groups, and generally get a feel for the place I’m making for. I’m incredibly excited. Thank you Soho House and Bombay Sapphire for this opportunity.’

Congratulations also to the runners-up who, alongside Sarah Hardie, will each make an artwork for a new Soho Edition collection for sale on Soho Home. The selected artists are: Sofia Ricciardi from Pescara, Italy; Henrietta Armstrong from Torquay, UK; Reggie Black from Maryland, US; Yonatan Vinitsky from London, UK; Princess Pea from New Delhi, India; Juju Wang from Shanghai, China; Panteha Abareshi, from Los Angeles, US.

People standing as part of a group singing performance.