Daphne Wright’s major new exhibition at the Crawford addresses such subjects as ageing and consumerism, writes
A SUPERFICIAL description of Daphne Wright’s current exhibition at Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery as being pre- occupied with the domestic suggests banality. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see a study of the human condition that is both poignant and mundane.
Familiar objects come under what has been called Wright’s “soft tender scrutiny”, including a baby’s buggy, a Zimmer frame, life-size sculpted sunflowers and a fridge. There is also a video of an ageing man who bears the scars of a career spent in middle management while trying to deal with his wife’s ill-health.
The Dublin-based artist, who is in her mid-fifties, has created small abstracted creatures in clay, prompted by observing the obsessive craze of her sons and their friends for collecting figures and ‘skins’ on the internet. It points to what is almost an obsession, consumer-driven, while also showing how children learn about categorisation which is further reinforced by schooling and society.
For Wright, whose exhibition is over two floors at the Crawford, the domestic is entirely linked with the social and the political. “I don’t see a division between the domestic and the political because the domestic is where we equip young people to go out to the crossroads of political and social interactions. And more and more, the political and social are coming into our houses because of technology.”
Entitled ‘A Quiet Mutiny’, Wright’s commissioned exhibition includes objects rendered in unfired clay with the fragility of this material very much to the fore. “Transience and fragmentation is reflected throughout the work. I suppose the title of my exhibition suggests a quiet rebellion or a quiet fight.
“I have been talking to the Crawford about it for maybe four years because I’m quite a slow worker. Also, the work has to be mature. It has finally come together. It’s made up of sculpture, film, video and installation. It deals with the different phases in life. The thing is, all the ages are interwoven. It’s hard to know where one dissolves into the other.”
In the video featuring the man whose career in middle management is marked, Wright worked with an actor, Bob, for about three years. “It was almost like keeping a notebook until I understood his voice. Then there is his final performance. It’s like a biography or a short story developed through the voice (of the character).
“He uses team building speech from management language. That is interlaced with him answering questions about the health of his wife. He’s at a particular time in his life. It’s quite a poignant piece of work, I hope.”
A second video, ‘Song of Songs’, is also poignant in that it investigates the relationships of care adults with vulnerable family members. “A man holds the hands of an elderly woman in a pose from a classic 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.”
On a more visceral level, there is a piece in the exhibition depicting a teen stabbing. “There has been a lot of stabbing of teenagers in the news, young men in particular.”
The show “needs time because it’s quiet and it speaks in what I hope is a poetic way. It is a privilege to be given this show in the Crawford, across three galleries.”
Longford-born Wright, who was brought up on a farm, says her family thought her plan to pursue art was seen as a surprising choice.
“Once I made the decision, it was very much supported. Most artists and writers end up being observers in the sense that we’re a little bit more removed because we’re observing rather than participating.”