artist / participant
A quiet mutiny
November 15, 2019–February 16, 2020
Crawford Art Gallery announces a large-scale exhibition of new work by artist Daphne Wright titled Daphne Wright: A quiet mutiny. Daphne Wright’s work quietly addresses the human condition and the important stages of life we all pass through, that are at once poignant and mundane. In this exhibition, over two gallery floors, Wright creates worlds that are beautifully eerie: familiar objects from everyday life come under the artist’s scrutiny, including buggies, houseplants, a fridge and a child’s drawing. However, Wright’s astuteness and sensitivity in stripping each item to its bare essence reveals their charged, subversive nature. They rebel against their design purpose and emit a quiet mutiny against their material. These are things only temporarily valued but that bear witness to the important roles of repetition, guidance and care in our daily lives. Expanding on her existing sculptural practice, Wright focuses on the materiality of dry, unfired clay creating a dichotomy of familiarity and fragility in this new body of work.
Wright continues her examination of the human condition in a series of small abstracted creatures rendered in clay. Guttural and primordial, they stand mutely together on display shelves. Wright was prompted to produce these condensed sculptural objects by observing the obsessive craze for collectible figures amongst her sons and their friends. Wright explores the essence of what collectibles represent to children as transitional objects on the path to adolescence, one of the interim states that are the core concern of her practice. Through collecting, children absorb notions of categorisation which are further reinforced by the education system and society.
Wright is also concerned with boundaries and explores the liminal and transitory areas of life, the cusp of childhood and adulthood, which her sons have now reached, as well as the borderline between life and death. Drawn by the artist’s young son and realised by the artist in compressed clay dust, a stab victim lies on the gallery floor. The fragility of the materials used is poignant and disturbing, and this is underscored by the boy’s cartoon-like depiction of his peer, whether fictional or real.
In the video Is everyone ok? we see an older man in poor health with his face brightly painted like a lion who bears the mental scars of a career spent in middle management. Calling out team-building clichés, he intersperses these with personal responses to queries about his wife’s health. The effect is unsettling as he resides at the interface between work and retirement, usefulness and redundancy. A second video Song of Songs poignantly investigates the relationships of care adults have with more vulnerable family members. A man holds the hands of an elderly woman in a pose taken from a lovers’ death scene in opera. The power struggle between the actors is palpable as they sing a kind of elemental duet exploring jealousy and long-term relationships. The woman chews and creates dissonant sounds not familiar coming from an older person—all the time, the male figure aids and accepts her noises and movements.
Daphne Wright’s exhibition reminds us that the "domestic" occupies the centre of a wider political and social dialogue. Wright states "when you are bringing up children you are constantly negotiating, filtering, monitoring and manipulating their actions with wider society. You are at the cutting edge of the wave of culture incoming at your children and must navigate it. You are attempting to equip them to survive." The exhibition Daphne Wright: A quiet mutiny will be accompanied by a publication with texts by Ellen Mara de Wachter and Oliver Basciano (to be published January 2020).