Queensland College of Art alumnus Mari Hirata has taken out the $15,000 grand prize at the Gold Coast Swell Sculpture Festival.

Mari won the 2020 Neumann Family Swell Sculpture Award with her work, The Sentinels.

The eye-catching piece is constructed of artfully repurposed air-conditioning ducts perched atop Currumbin Rock.

The talented artist said she was thrilled to take out top honours with her first entry.

“I have been coming along to Swell every year since it started, and when I made the leap from photography and silversmithing into large-scale sculpture, I finally decided to enter,” she said.

“Winning is a huge honour and will allow me to invest in my practice and continue to upskill.”

Mari working on her winning sculpture in her backyard studio

Mari said the stunning creation represented several months of intense labour.

“There were lots of late nights and early mornings in my studio at home. It took a monumental effort and physical hardship to complete this piece.”

The piece impressed the judges with its bold use of upcycled materials to create something otherworldly.

“I think the work is immediately eye catching – the bright, shiny tones of green, with familiar yet alien-like features and textures,” Mari said.

“I had fun creating a backstory for the work. For years, these ducts provided artificial lungs for our buildings… what if after decades absorbing our CO2 and DNA, these structures morphed into hybrid creatures?

“It’s great to see audiences at Swell using their imagination and creating their own stories around the work.”

Mari Hirata in her studio

Mari’s practice includes photography, sculpture, installation, and silversmithing, and her works are housed in leading institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia and HOTA.

Since completing a Master of Visual Art at Queensland College of Art (QCA) in 2002, Mari has exhibited in venues throughout Australia and overseas.

“I was incredibly lucky to be among the first students in the fine art program at the Gold Coast,” she said.

“We had amazing lecturers and my studies exposed me to so many different mediums.

“While I was at the QCA I developed a network of fellow artists that I still rely on for advice and support.”

Professor Elisabeth Findlay

Queensland College of Art Director Professor Elisabeth Findlay said Swell provided invaluable exposure for local artists.

“This event supports emerging artists and gives them a platform,” she said.

“Many of our students and alumni enter the competition each year, and it’s a fantastic showcase for their work.”

For more information, see the Swell Sculpture Festival website.