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Daphne Wright

Royal Hibernian Academy
15 Ely Place
January 20–February 26

Daphne Wright, Stallion, 2009, marble dust and resin, 15' x 12' x 19' 8".

There is a satisfying frisson—aesthetic, emotional—that rests between the beautiful and the repellent. From a distance, Daphne Wright’s Stallion, 2009, is a glorious thoroughbred, rolling on the ground with abandon. Come closer and see that the beast, cast from a freshly slaughtered horse in resin and marble dust, has been partially eviscerated. A jolt of infinitesimal recoil follows before fascination takes over.

This midcareer retrospective, organized with Bristol’s Arnolfini art center, takes in the various strands of Wright’s practice: filmmaking, sculpture, drawing, and sound. While all her works exert a misleadingly peaceful pull, standouts are Kitchen Table, 2014, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, 2000, and Domestic Shrubbery, 1994. The latter, a room about sixteen feet square, is covered with an ornate plaster floral lattice pattern. Initially beguiling, it soon becomes oppressive. Small hearts are tangled in the design, while a cuckoo calls. One is strongly reminded of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in which a woman, denied any creative outlet, goes mad and retreats into the pattern of her wall covering.

In Where Do Broken Hearts Go, large, tin-wrapped cacti shapes loom, while a woman recites lines from country-and-western songs. Also in this work is a series of eight anonymous photographs, found at a second-hand shop, which lend a sense of universality to the piece’s theme of longing and loss. Kitchen Table is a jesmonite cast of the artist’s young sons, appearing like funerary statues, at a table. There is something unapproachable about the intimate scene—we are forever held off, just by a moment, from connection. Life, death, love, belonging: Wright’s “ordinary” subjects make up all that is extraordinary in life.

Gemma Tipton