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Artist Nicky Hirst was appointed the sixth official Election Artist in 2019 at the announcement of a snap general election. During the election campaign, held in the winter of 2019, Hirst travelled the country visiting political events, contested constituencies, and witnessing the electorate navigate a divisive electoral campaign.

There Was A Time, 2019-20

A photograph of a large hanging in a glass roofed building surrounded by trees. The metal frame has many arms with brightly coloured acrylic figures suspended. The figures are made from a combination of a circular disks and triangle components to create a head and body. Each figure is different, with each shape coloured to match the official colours of political parties.
There Was A Time, 2019-20, by Nicky Hirst © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA S762

Since 2001, an artist has been appointed at each UK general election. This artist follows the election trail around the UK, and produces artwork for the Parliamentary Art Collection based on their observations. In 2019, artist Nicky Hirst was appointed to capture the wintertime snap election. This online exhibition gives us insight into the artist’s residency, and the process that led to the 2019 election artwork, There Was A Time 2019-20. 

2019 General Election – Artist in residence

Nicky Hirst undertook her residency across the country, visiting towns and cities across the UK. She was struck by the Christmas markets and festive celebrations punctuated by political campaigns, posters and voters ‘showing their colours’.

‘There are just two requirements for the role of Election Artist – to maintain neutrality and political balance and to achieve regional balance across the UK. During the election campaign I witnessed manifesto launches, political debates, hustings events and canvassing by all the participating parties. Sometimes I found it uncomfortable, as an outsider, being surrounded by people who are unanimously in agreement, so I sought out the more marginal and conflicted areas of the country.

I found having to remain neutral both interesting and useful. As an artist, I could be objective and listen without having to think about my personal response or how to react. I discovered that hearing and trying not to judge helps hone one’s own feelings of empathy and understanding.’

Nicky Hirst

Watch the journey begin

There Was A Time, 2019-20

Inspired by the constantly moving election machine and changing, sometimes contrasting, views and experiences of regional areas and individual voters, Hirst created There Was A Time, 2019-20.

A large mobile hanging in a glass roofed building filled with two rows of leafy trees. The thin metal frame has many arms with brightly coloured acrylic shapes suspended. A combination of a circular disks and triangle components hang in vertical arrangements to create a head and body. Each figure is comprised of different colours and shapes combined. Some of the acrylic pieces are translucent and some are opaque. In the background is an empty atrium space with seating and walkways.
There Was A Time, 2019-20 by Nicky Hirst © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The mobile hangs suspended in Portcullis House, capturing the unique moment of the 2019 General Election. But far from static, the structure and figures continue to move responding to the environment around them. Each figure tells the story of voting patterns and changing political positions, and reflect the colours of the political campaigners and parties of the 2019 election.

‘Every member of the public I spoke with during the campaign had different information and another story to tell. Needless to say, ordinary people are extraordinary. I wanted the commission to not only reflect our democratic process but also the diversity and myriad of opinion I saw and heard within the electorate.’

Nicky Hirst

There Was A Time, 2019-20 can be viewed from locations around Portcullis House. It is always changing and always offering new perspectives on a unique moment in electoral history.

64 figures hang in balance. They represent the entirety of the eligible electorate and the complex and sometimes contradictory political experiences of the voting public.

Detail angle of the colourful acrylic figures against a leafy background, taken from below and looking up. The colourful shapes are hanging from a metal structure similar to bicycle spokes.
Detail of There Was A Time, 2019-20 by Nicky Hirst © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA S762

The bodies, which comprise of party colours, reflect the many political issues which swayed voters during this election. Their heads illustrate the outcome of the election and casting of votes, with the Conservative Party winning a landslide election. One third of the heads of the figures do not have a political party colour, representing the percentage of non-voters at this election.

The Commission was delayed by the COVID-19 Pandemic, and now reflects on an election held on the eve of international turmoil. The title reflects the development of the artwork which took place against the background of the aftermath of the election and the beginning of the pandemic.

About the 2019 Election Artist

After studying Fine Art followed by Art and Architecture, Nicky Hirst has pursued a parallel practice within her own studio. She often works collaboratively to produce diverse projects for the public realm. Her sources may include places, people, objects or words. By noticing what is already there, she reveals a visual poetry in the ordinary and everyday.

Visit the Election Artist 2019 Instagram Account.

Cornelia Parker was the official election artist for the 2017 general election – visit our online exhibition.