The Arnolfini has put on Emotional Archaeology, a major solo exhibition by artist Daphne Wright, curated by Jo Lanyon. The exhibition showcases work from the breadth of Wright’s career. Originally from Ireland, Wright works from her home studio in Bristol to explore “complex social issues and our understanding of society.” The pieces, whether they are sculptures, drawings, audios or short films, challenge the viewer to consider them on an emotional level. Through her mainly sculptural work, Wright investigates intimate and domestic issues regarding parenting, ageing, care and our relationship with animals.
The latter theme was the most prominently featured on site. On the ground floor of the gallery, a dead horse is the first image you’ll be greeted with. Spread out on the floor, the animal’s sorry state is made more apparent upon closer inspection: the skin, seemingly sliced from its throat to its stomach, hangs like old leather. In the corner furthest from the entrance a ‘Lamb’ is strung up, the thought of death made more poignant by its isolation. A ‘Primate’ lies in the foetal position a few short steps away, the combination of marble dust, onyx, resin, paint and silk embroidery creating a texture that can only be enjoyed through looking more closely at the corpse. A swan rounds up the collective, its snake-like neck rested in an ‘S’ shape as it lies still. Its wings are slightly lifted, as if in memory of movement.
Upstairs, the exhibition continues with an eerie sort of sensory overload permeating the atmosphere. A little boy’s voice is heard as you enter a room where sculptures of two young boys sit sombrely at a table. You can’t quite make sense of what the recorded voice is trying to say, but you get the gist. Other rooms feature more ambiguous displays: as you walk by giant cacti-like structures, black and white images of nuns fill the walls in a linear form until you are led to another room. The finale is a room of white flowers, or the idea of them. A mix of foliage and roses form a pattern from floor to ceiling, the cut-outs casting a shadow on the plain white wall behind it. This piece was the most unsettling. Only my camera ventured in: after two clicks I walked out into a gloriously sunny day, the harbour providing a welcome visual alternative.
Despite my sudden need to be as far away from that wall – those voices – as possible, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this exhibition. I’ve never seen a horse, live or otherwise, look like that. It was disconcertingly poignant, beautiful and glaring. It made me feel vulnerable, yet somewhat grateful. I’d recommend a visit, if only to appreciate Wright’s technique and attention to detail. Catharsis is a bonus.
See Emotional Archaeology at the Arnolfini: 16 Narrow Quay Bristol BS1 4QA