Julya Hajnoczky The Prefix Prize

May 3–Jul 27
    Julya Hajnoczky, Boletinellus meruliodes, 2021, from the series At the Last Judgement, We Will All Be Trees. Courtesy the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto
Julya Hajnoczky, Boletinellus meruliodes, 2021, from the series At the Last Judgement, We Will All Be Trees. Courtesy the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto

The recipient of the fourth annual Prefix Prize is Julya Hajnoczky. A native of Calgary, Alberta, where she currently resides, Hajnoczky is a contemporary artist who privileges photography within a broader multidisciplinary practice.

Julya Hajnoczky, Flammulina velutipes, 2022, from the series At the Last Judgement, We Will All Be Trees. Courtesy of the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto

She has been inspired, in part, by the work of Anna Atkins, a British botanist, illustrator, and pioneering photographer renowned for having first recognized, in the mid-nineteenth century, the potential of photography as a tool for documenting botanical specimens. Between 1843 and 1853, Atkins published cyanotypes of seaweed in the form of unique, hand-stitched fascicles; these books are widely considered the first to be illustrated with photographs. Following these publications with a study of ferns, her work marked a significant contribution not only to science but also to art, as it was appreciated for its aesthetic as well as its scientific value.

Nearly two hundred years later, Hajnoczky brings to the natural world the same inquisitive spirit, artistic sensibility, and inventive use of emergent technology that had characterized Atkins’s endeavour. Where Atkins worked in an open-air laboratory in order to avail herself of the sunshine essential to the cyanotype process, Hajnoczky similarly works in the field, albeit in her mobile, natural-history-collection laboratory, otherwise known as the “Al Fresco Science Machine”—a custom-built camper with a rear hatch that encloses her high-resolution scanner, plant press, glass vials, and other essential equipment for making art in the wilderness. To her current work in scanography, she brings considerable knowledge and experience of historical photographic processes and materials including cyanotypes, rayographs, and other forms of photograms. However, her work redraws the techniques of the photogram for the twenty-first century, producing digital photographs of heretofore unimaginable clarity, colour, and depth.

Julya Hajnoczky, Kalmia angustifolia, 2023, from the series At the Last Judgement, We Will All Be Trees. Courtesy of the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto

Alluding to the tradition of still life as well as to the history of botanical illustration, her work, as a representation of an ecosystem, depicts the fragile and uncertain-to-endure relationship among plants, insects, and dirt. Her use of smooth, matte paper brings to common plants the depth and luminosity typically reserved for the exotic flowers of traditional still lifes. The scale of her work transforms historically diminutive botanical illustration into large images that enable viewers to closely examine the subject and immerse themselves in the minutiae of the natural world. As a counterpoint to this intense scrutiny, the black background situates the composition in a void, whereby its greater context is unknowable.

Drawing upon several aspects of scientific methodology, including a systematic approach, careful observation, and deliberate collecting, Hajnoczky is remarkably disciplined. On each of her forays into the wild, she strives to spend at least one week exploring and contemplating the site with the assistance of scientists and laypersons with local expertise, familiarizing herself with each ecosystem before collecting any specimens. By the time she begins to gather plants, she has envisioned the image she will create, the composition already taking shape in her hand. She often returns to the same sites, revisiting the same colleagues. Through the seasons and over the years, she observes the changes taking place in the natural world. Whether she’s reuniting with friends who thoughtfully salvage things from nature for use in her work, or recreating the “scribbles” of seaweed that wash ashore at Long Beach, British Columbia, or snagging the season’s last sprigs of sheep laurel in Terra Nova National Park on the east coast of Newfoundland, she’s always learning, always attuned to change, always acutely aware of the effects of climate change.

Julya Hajnoczky, Zostera marina, 2020, from the series At the Last Judgement, We Will All Be Trees. Courtesy the artist and Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto

Her practice has been shaped not only by the conditions of her collection permits, which constrain, to varying degrees, the selection process, but by her own ethical imperatives. In keeping with the principles of ethical foraging, she limits the number of plants she collects and chooses only common species, avoiding endangered, threatened, or singular plants. And when she has completed her work, she leaves the plants behind, where they return to the biomass in the environment from which they came.

Curated by Scott McLeod, with the Prefix Prize jury

Presented by Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art in partnership with CONTACT Photography Festival, Underline Studio and Urbanspace Gallery, and with the support of founding partner, Partners in Art

Launched in 2021, the Prefix Prize is awarded annually to a photographic artist of any nationality. Designed to honour artists at any stage of their careers who have yet to receive the recognition they deserve, the prize consists of an exhibition, a publication, and a cash award of $5,000.00. This year’s prize was juried by eight photography experts, including Katya García-Antón, director and chief curator, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum; Michelle Jacques, head of exhibitions and collections/chief curator, Remai Modern; Ritu Kanal, designer, Underline Studio; Scott McLeod, director and curator, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art; Heather Canlas Rigg, curator and writer; Jennifer Young and Caroline Laxton, co-chairs, Project Development, Partners in Art; and Jane Zeidler, art consultant. In addition to choosing the recipient of this year’s prize, the jury recognized Alnis Stakle with an honourable mention. An artist and professor of photography at Riga Stradins University in Riga, Latvia, Stakle manipulates and prints found family photographs on original documents from the Soviet era in order to speak to that which is both remembered and forgotten within collective memory. 

Julya Hajnoczky is a contemporary artist based in Calgary. Equipped with a camper and workspace known as the “Al Fresco Science Machine,” she has explored numerous Canadian ecosystems, from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park (AB) to the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve (BC) and Wood Buffalo National Park (NWT). She has completed artist residencies at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (Vancouver, BC), Point Pelee National Park (ON) and Terra Nova National Park (NL), among others. Her exhibitions include the Art Gallery of St. Albert (St. Albert, AB), Esplanade Art Gallery (Medicine Hat, AB) and Tilted Brick Gallery (Creston, BC). She is represented by Christine Klassen Gallery (Calgary).

Scott McLeod is the director and curator of Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art. In nearly thirty years, he has curated more than sixty-five exhibitions and has authored more than sixty catalogue essays and other texts. He has lectured in numerous public institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, and has served as a juror and nominator for an array of international awards, including the Prix Pictet, the National Magazine Awards and the Scotiabank Photography Award. A member of AICA Canada and IKT International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, he lives and works in Toronto.