Daphne Wright, Emotional Archeology, exhibition at the Arnolfini

23 October 2016- Daphne Wright, Emotional Archeology, exhibition at the Arnolfini. 30 September 2016 to 31 December 2016, curated by Josephine Lanyon.

Daphne Wright, Cacti

I have not visited the National Trust Tyntesfield site, nor do I know anything about the occupants of this property, specifically the Gibbs family, who through their generations lived there between 1846-2001. Apparently, this site and family, influenced the making of these life size (because they were cast by actual dead animals), impressive, marble dust and resin sculptures of dead animals. I am not sure that the history of this property or the people who occupied it, make me feel more or less for these pieces, but I often find this with history. It can be personal.

I am conflicted by this exhibit. I celebrate the fact that the Arnolfini is exhibiting an expansive solo show by a female artist, and she is local to Bristol (Bristol and Dublin). She also makes large, physical, sculptures, which still feels like a male domain, or at least men are usually in the headliners getting the big solo shows.

The conflict comes with the work of the marble dust sculptures of animals, the sculptures you have probably seen being used for publicity. When viewing this work, I was struck in the same way as I do when watching David Attenborough’s planet earth series, when fledglings are suddenly eaten by a nearby predator, and the mother returns to an empty nest. I can’t help but feel manipulated, or at least that using animals in this way is an easy way to get an emotional response. Hence the title this exhibit, Emotional Archaeology. Why don’t we call the planet earth series, emotional planet earth, or emotional Attenborough. Maybe we should, but I always need to switch the channel.


What I did like very much where her pieces in the other galleries, in particular Where do Broken Hearts Go? Tin foil cacti. Luminous towers of jolly characters waving hello or so long cowboy, if that is the sentimentality that this work is commenting on.

Another highlight from this show is the photo below of a tin foil sculpture from a budding artist, a child, who had attended one of the educational workshops for children reacting to the exhibit.

Unknown Child Artist, Tin Foil Sculpture.
Unknown Child Artist, Tin Foil Sculpture.

This work is very different from mine, so I cannot comment directly how Wright might influence my work today. But, it is important to attend, participate, and share in what other artists are doing. Also to experience a space transformed by work, and how different that same space has been only just a few months ago.