Daphne Wright: Emotional Archaeology

During the week, I visited a few art galleries in Bristol with my Foundation course. Whilst it was a great way to procrastinate from all the other work I have to complete before my deadline, unfortunately there was only one exhibition that I felt inspired by. The exhibition was at the Arnolfini, located by the Bristol docks, an art gallery which I have been visiting for years due to my parents, even before I held any appreciation for art that didn’t look realistic. However in recent years I began to enjoy the often contemporary artwork housed there, (this included a curtain of blue beads and a stream of invisible thread stretching across the large expanse, as oblivious visitors walked into the apparent ’empty’ space).


The Bristol based artist Daphne Wright is the creator currently being featured within the Arnolfini’s impressive gallery space. Upon walking into the first room on the ground floor we were abruptly met by a white cast of a stallion which appeared to have collapsed, (the pose similar to that of Banksy’s Dismaland Cinderella carriage horses). It’s tongue hangs out of its mouth and it’s flesh seems to be torn away at the stomach seemingly creating a graphic image, however it is not, due to the flat white colour causing it to be difficult to initially make out the grim details. The room also features a lamb, monkey and swan all sculpted through the casting process also, inferring the time consuming process that it took to form all three sculptures. We had someone from the Arnolfini talk to us about the artwork, which was excellent as it provided context for the ambiguous sculptures. The speaker said the work almost imitated death masks, capturing the final moments of each animal, preserving their bodies forever. He also noted that the stallion was significant as it is often an image that portrays power within literature, countless paintings, statues and memorials. The horse is usually presented upright and in a strong sense. Therefore to position this powerful image on it’s back is to overturn this metaphor for power, creating a new sense of vulnerability. What added to the feeling of mourning and power were the watercolours along the back wall, all featuring simple portraits of priests. Although I wasn’t personally interested in the portraits themselves I feel the choice to place them with the animal ‘corpses’ was an interesting choice. They were all created using a watery medium, however it seemed Wright had deliberately made them translucent, with the eyes being the only facial feature that was easily visible. She may have chosen to do this so the priests almost appeared as ghosts, adding to the sense of death within the work.


On the first room of the second floor, we came across  multiple plinths each displaying clay heads. I loved the naivety of this piece and the simplicity to the shapes. The speaker commented that they were almost like children drawings due to the flat 2D quality. It was also told to us that the heads were unfired clay, and therefore were extremely brittle, perhaps conveying the fragility of childhood.


This then linked to the other piece within the room, a cast of a table and chairs with Wrights’ children positioned on it. Unfortunately I only got a photo of part of this piece as the room was extremely busy with other students, however you get a sense of the artwork from the photo below. Again, this piece was very delicate, creating themes of vulnerability, also due to the defenceless positions of the children, who seemed exposed also due to their lack of clothing. The speaker mentioned that Wright would have had to create these casts in sections and then put them together after to create the compete form. Therefore she would have had to have done these casts very quickly as whilst the sculpture was being completed the children would have been growing and developing. This again infers themes such as childhood or loss of innocence.


‘Kitchen Table’

In the next room was probably my least favourite piece within the exhibition, but striking nonetheless. The interior was filled with cactus shapes of varying shapes and sizes, imitating a desert environment, an extremely barren and lonely landscape. The cacti were formed using rolls of tinfoil, a very tactile material, however we had to resist the urge to touch the sculptures as the speaker commented that none of the forms were fixed to the floor and were actually balancing rather precariously.


‘Where do broken hearts go’

My favourite piece of Wrights’ was one of the last I visited. It was in a small separate room that only allowed four people in at a time due to the extremely delicate nature of the piece. The walls were shrouded by a moulded plaster cast of leaves and flowers forming a lattice pattern. The piece was intended to be reminiscent of wallpaper. The cast was positioned slightly away from the walls, casting shadows. Within the 3D lattice moulded hearts were hung randomly. I was not sure what the meaning was behind the hearts, however I feel it added to the haunting atmosphere of the room.


‘Domestic Shrubbery’

Overall, I enjoyed this exhibition due to the beauty and simplicity of the pieces. I also felt that there were a lot of ideas behind the initially ambiguous sculptures, as I feel the subject needs context to be fully enjoyed and appreciated.

Daphne Wright’s exhibition ‘Emotional Archaeology’ is on at the Arnolfini until 31 December 2016, 11:00 to 18:00.

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