Emotional Archaeology

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One of the exhibitions showing during my visit to the Royal Hibernian Academy, Emotional Archaeology is a retrospective of the work of Irish artist, Daphne Wright, born into a Protestant family in Co Longford but based in Bristol for nearly 20 years, dividing her time between the city and Ireland. The RHA’s website tells us that she

engages a series of conceptual ideas and sculptural languages, which have been quietly influential. Her work is the result of a relentless curiosity into the way in which materials can create an involvement with often unspoken human preoccupations.

Casting, sound recording, filmmaking and drawing result in a series of works that explore issues such as parenting, aging and mankind’s complex relationship with animals. Wright is not afraid to embrace domestic and familial subjects in order to encourage
a genuine psychological commitment from the viewer; this is a retrospective look at Wright as an emotional archaeologist.

She was elected as a member of the Aosdana, Irish Association of Artists in 2011.

The main part of the exhibition is in the galleries on the first floor, but In a cabinet at the bottom of the stairwell, there’s a collection of small objects – some knitted, some ceramic and some cast in polyurethane resin. Home Ornaments was originally produced as part of a public art project during the redevelopment of the Gorbals housing estate in Glasgow. They were placed in each of the newly built flats on a specially built shelf, prior to the new residents moving in. Some of the residents kept them as ornaments, others ignored them or disposed of them.

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Home Ornaments (2002–5)

Entering the main gallery at the top of the stairs I was greeted by the sight of this striking, disturbing piece

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Stallion (2009)

A full scale stallion – dead and partially flayed – cast from marble dust and resin. It made quite an impact. it’s one of a series of pieces of casts of dead animals – there was also a monkey and a lamb in the exhibition – extremely “lifelike” (if that’s the right word to use to describe dead animals) and intended to explore mankind’s complex relationship with animals.

My favourite piece was probably this

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Domestic Shrubbery (1994)

A small room with the walls covered with a very delicate lace like floral pattern – you had to be careful not to damage it on entering the space.

The complex decorative form in the work, inspired by Victorian plaster, resembles the work of English textile designer and poet William Morris. The artist combines a living wallpaper, incorporating tiny shrunken hearts, in the form of a suspended floral relief.

There was a soundtrack playing – the voice of a woman imitating a cuckoo which was rather spooky and disconcerting.

Immediately outside this room there was an installation comprising seven cacti fabricated from strips of tin foil, accompanied by a series of nine photographic prints of nuns and performances by children, displayed on the walls (reproduced from Kodak colour slides found by the artist in a second hand shop) with Country and Western songs describing broken hearts and murder playing in the background.

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Where do Broken Hearts Go? (2000). Cacti, tin foil, glue, resin, series of 9 intaglio plates

Round the corner three more pieces. A video work and two sculptures.

The first showing two boys sitting at and on a kitchen table. Apparently representing the artist’s own children, cast in jesmonite.

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Kitchen Table (2014)

And a creepy set of abstract heads made from unfired clay

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Clay Heads (2014)

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Overall a series of thought provoking but unsettling pieces.  Reflecting the title, it certainly was an emotional experience – I think the majority of visitors would have a strong reaction to most of the works on display.

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3 thoughts on “Emotional Archaeology

  1. Unsettling indeed. The horse makes me think of those horses killed during horse racing – awful. And I never knew that about the Gorbals! There is plenty of street art there but I hadn’t heard of art being left in the flats.

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