Daphne Wright at Frith Street Gallery, London (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(4), pages 52-3 in 1998.

Daphne Wright at Frith Street Gallery

At first, it seems that Irish sculptor Daphne Wright displays beautiful interiors and landscapes. Yet, her installations play with interior and exterior distinctions and illustrate the detachment between man-made interiors and natural surroundings. Sound pieces add another dimension by questioning these spaces and bringing internal landscapes into the space.

In her recent show, two black and white photographs both entitled Still Life (1998), illustrate empty domestic spaces, but we are ultimately detached as we don’t know these spaces personally. Acting as points of departure, these photographs introduce her four installations, where appearance doesn’t fit shifting realities, and friction exists between the visual and the verbal.

In Domestic Shrubbery (1994), plaster forms that suggest floral wallpaper are detached from the wall. Crisscrossed and creating shadows, the effect of the work is claustrophobic. Looking closely, we see plaster forms that look like interspersed human hearts. A human voice imitates a rooster with “cuckoo cuckoo”, progressively strained and peculiar.

In the next three installations, Daphne Wright switches from interior to exterior landscapes. Nonsense and Death (1998) features idyllic, tree-like forms with peppers and flowers that recall jewelry. But we are not allowed to enter the idealized make-believe world. In the background the trees are bare, looking as if the Garden of Eden has been defiled and is dying.

In contrast, Indeed, Indeed (1998) features tinfoil and organic shapes to create a cartoon-like landscape in which our sense of scale increases dramatically. As we walk through, tiny seagulls are frozen in flight, and tinfoil reflections magically illuminate the large mounds. Lot’s Wife (1995) appears like a fairy-tale, tinfoil orchard, where our scale is set almost one to one. On closer inspection we see impossible, grotesque, tinfoil fruit trees set in cement. Most often, visual hints leas us to reconsider the spaces and unnerving sound pieces creep in and tell us that what we see is just the surface. The experience is an abstraction of humanity, focusing on our everyday life of ambiguity.

How "Irish" is this work? Previous British writings on Daphne Wright have used her Irishness and Irish-accented sound clips as a vehicle to express otherness and interpret her work. Wright feels strongly against this: "Sometimes I get very annoyed because it is an easy way to package my works." The beauty of Wright’s work lies in its refreshing honesty. Relishing in the questions, illusionary constructions are not offered.