Contract with witches (First Love, 2009-2011)
Single channel
4:3 video
stereo sound
43:09 minutes
First Love contends with the conditions of desire, writing and confinement through the narration of 13 stories, each of which articulates ‘first love’ as a joy and a predicament. The 13 scripts each correspond with a literary work that represents the writing of love in confinement, including authors Samuel Beckett, Charlotte Brontë, Marcel Proust, Simone Weil, Jean Genet, Virginia Woolf, Helen Garner, Anne Carson, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Roland Barthes and Hélène Cixous. Hibberd’s First Love stories manifest writing as an act of resistance.
The construct of thirteen different fictional authors is a device by which Hibberd has examined how a writer might contend with love and desire as an individual struggle. The work examines how desire operates as a cause or a consequence of social, psychological or political confinement. It also looks investigates how desire could be a condition conducive to writing. Hibberd is interested in how such writing might act as a kind of ‘border crossing’, based on the social resistance embodied within the work Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Turgenev’s First Love and Genet’s Miracle of the Rose, even if this notion is taken up allegorically by way of allusion, intense interiority or in unique formal approaches.
The writing produced for First Love has been conceived as a two-part novella. Volume One was published in a limited edition in June 2009 and includes the essay Ice, time, desire and a number of illustrations from an accompanying exhibition. The stories in Volume Two are as yet unpublished but comprise the performance texts for the videos.
The First Love videos are a reading performance of the stories from the novella as voice-over recordings. The ‘activation’ of these texts as acoustic works employs a storytelling mode, while the formal configuration of the work aims to create dissonance between the story that is read aloud and the absent text. The videos are shot in a sound studio, with a camera set up outside the booth to record the performer through the glass as they read aloud (no sound was taken in-camera). Visually, the footage plays a more complex game with the text. While the performers or collaborators (most are not actors) read directly from the script, the screen fades to black. Subtitles follow the reader’s delivery of the text, which adds a dissonant dimension the original story because it is reinscribed once more as a vocal work. At numerous intervals in the recording session an unseen interlocutor interrupts the performer. At each of these points of intercession the blackout is lifted to reveal the reader sitting in the sound booth (trying to ascertain the question being asked). Because the interruption is unannounced, and because the intervening voice is inaudible, the reader’s face is silently yet expressively intent on the person beyond the glass and their muted voice. This opens up an acoustic schism in the scene, for the performer is clearly involved in a conversation, however the viewer of the work is placed in a dissonant relation to the missing voice of the interlocutor because they can only guess at what is being said. The studio window, moreover, provides a subtle reflection of the external interlocutor (also in reference to the fourth wall). A dialogue proceeds from here in which the reader’s fictional characterisation is suddenly lifted to reveal another aspect of their persona, where they either respond as themselves or attempt to maintain the fiction. This creates a secondary dramatic construct and discordance in the slippage between the actor’s performative and real selves.
The thirteen original texts in the series include, Ivan Turgenev’s First Love (1860); Samuel Beckett’s First Love (1970); Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847); Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913–27); Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace (1947); Jean Genet’s Miracle of the Rose (1946); Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929); Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977); Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband (2001); Simone de Beauvoir’s Letters to Sartre (1940); Marguerite Duras’s Malady of Death (1986); Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977); and Hélène Cixous’s Vivre l’orange (1979).

Represented by Galerie de Roussan, Paris.
© All images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Galerie de Roussan, Paris