An extract from Making Things Matter, Daphne Wright and Shirley MacWilliam in Conversation for the Emotional Archaeology exhibition publication.
SM You have said that in the end the object isn’t the point, so why make sculpture?
DW The sculpture is made from stuff that doesn’t last and has this feeling of disintegration and fragility. That’s not the case with Stallion (2009) but it is the ‘pushed-over-plinth’. So it’s the dissection of the object or the dissection of the monument. So why make the object: well, because they are always inadequate.
SM Early on several works were like rooms and then there were works that were objects or bodies. Walls used to have the birds and hearts within them but now the ‘birds’ and the ‘hearts’ are the objects.
DW Yes, I was making rooms but they were not real rooms, they were just the outline or the fragile perimeter and inside all that repetitive pattern were the poignant objects; now I think it is the objects that are the fragile things. Some of it is practicality. You can’t keep making these things; where do they go?
SM Where would you like the objects and installations to be in the future?
DW Ideally you want the work to be in collections on your terms, not to be bought as commodities. I think that’s important.
SM There is a sense of wanting your work to outlive you?
DW Yes, despite the work being made of really fragile material. At the time you make the piece of sculpture because you have to, whatever the materials, because that happens to be the object of enquiry.
SM So, do pieces like Stallion and Primate (2009) become solid, enduring objects because they are made with a feel for a quality of material?
DW I was absolutely desperate to make Primate and it never occurred to me what it would be made in, the marble, embroidery and paint. I spent so long trying to get access to its body; that’s what I was interested in not the material or the end result. It was just purely to access that moment in the cycle of that animal.
It came in the line of enquiry about the death masks, monuments and icons. Things are accessed that are appropriate in that live line of enquiry. Once I’d done Stallion I found if I kept on that line nothing new would be revealed.
SM So it was the culminating piece?
DW It was the culminating piece. (Although still and for a long time I wanted to do an elephant: all the insides of an elephant in a big pile cast alongside the elephant… it would be amazing.)
In the period of investigation, ideas and images get refined and distilled. Then there’s one that works and there is no reason to make another. That’s the time to stop.
SM Accepting there’s no reason to make another one is a tough way to choose to make. That puts it firmly in the realm of research, not production.
DW Absolutely, I am not a production artist. But artists have to make a living so you can’t be so hard on yourself.
Aosdana membership and the Cnuas stipend are unbelievably liberating. I think of it as your artist peer group supporting you and it is such a valuable thing. It is really worth stating what that means for an artist.
It gives you a living; it doesn’t provide money to actually physical make; I can go in here and shut the door even if I make work out of dirt, and clay is dirt.
Shirley MacWilliam is an artist, writer and lecturer in Fine Art at Ulster University. She has written about Daphne Wright throughout her practice.
See Daphne Wright: Emotional Archaeology at Arnolfini until 31 December 2016.
The exhibition publication edited by Josephine Lanyon is now available at Arnolfini Bookshop for the special exhibition price of £14.99 (RRP £20.00)
The publication includes essays by Penelope Curtis, Director of The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, Xa Sturgis, Director of The Ashmolean, Oxford and interviews by Brian McAvera, Art Critic, Irish Arts Review and Shirley MacWilliam Lecturer in Fine Art, Ulster University.