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Daphne Wright, Freud and the poems of Emily Dickinson

Tue Nov 13th, 2018

I am walking across my friend Susan’s porch.  It is a balmy summer night in Pennsylvania.  Susan’s house is nested in a densely wooded area and the nightsounds of the living forest are as thick as the air.  I am thinking about Lucian Freud and Emily Dickinson; about DaphneWrightTimothy MortonDerridaHeideggerOttoline Leyser and Johnny Cash; about how these various artists and thinkers are linked; trying to gather them into an explainable bundle, grasping across hundreds of years, thousands of miles, and a dozen different disciplines.  Then it happens.  I stride face first through the invisible gossamer strands of a spider’s web.  I have it.  “The Ethics of Scrutiny” is a web in four dimensions.  A hyper-web.

Just as Morton explains the concept of a hyperobject, or Carl Sagan explains the idea of a tesseract, Daphne Wright’s curation of IMMA’s Freud Project, “The Ethics of Scrutiny”, has transcended our ability to perceive its limits.  We move within the show in both time and place, and it all begins with Dickinson’s “envelope poems”.

These arcane scraps of paper ensconced between poetry, sculpture, and diary, which challenge our understanding of Dickinson and the myth culture has built of her biography, are the totems of Daphne Wright’s curatorial sensibilities employed to arrange “Ethics”.  The objects themselves embody what Martin Heidegger terms the “alwaysalready”, and Wright has deftly positioned them in the opening room of the gallery, juxtaposing them with images of plantcells and neural networks drafted by Sigmund Freud, Lucian’s grandfather.

47. The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright_IMMA Collection Freud Project_2018_Photography Ros Kavanagh
Freud Project. The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright. IMMA Collection 2018. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

This is the node, the centre of the invisible web which connects all the pieces in this show.  Wright is hinting at us; suggesting a language that reaches across time and discipline to equip us with new tools we as viewers can employ to scrutinise the canvasses of Lucian Freud.  And though the strands connecting Ottoline Leyser’s interview about plant epigenetics to John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” do not announce themselves, they ensnare us in a web of meanings, and as you walk through the gallery you can feel these links like unanticipated spider silk across the face.  They are the spokes of a web leading from Dickinson’s “Gorgeous Nothings” along new avenues of meaning to the manifold ways we can see into the canvasses of Lucian Freud.

As Dickinson herself writes in poem 1383, whose UMass Amherst archival envelope facsimile is on display in the vitrine in room one of “Ethics”:  “Long years apart – make no/ Breach a second cannot fill -/ The absence of the Witch does not/ Invalidate the spell-//”.  And indeed, Daphne Wright has curatorially performed a strange magic, illuminating new meanings of Freud through skilful and deliberate juxtapositions against a cadre of contemporary artists and an array of thinkers throughout time and place.   The show lives in time like a forest, continually in a state of contextual flux.  Leaving “The Ethics of Scrutiny” you almost have to wipe the threads of these subtle connections off your face like spider silk in order to re-enter normal time.

As we reach the final days of this remarkable exhibition I have had the pleasure to spend many hours in. I would strongly recommend you come spend some time herein this place before it changes over again.  I leave with you with following quote to take into the galleries before the show closes on Sunday 2 September 2018: Place doesn’t stay still, but bends and twists: place is a twist you can’t iron out of the fabric of things.” ¾ Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology.

Further References and Resources

This blog draws on content researched and developed for the recent Gallery Talk / Emily Dickinson’s Poetry & Ecology of the Gallery by Seefahrt. For further reference you can listen back here to this tour on the IMMA Sound Cloud where you can also find a dedicated playlist on talks related to the IMMA Collection Lucian Freud Project.


Further Reading

Artist's Voice

Slow Looking & Porous Links in The Ethics of Scrutiny

Writer and researcher Sue Rainsford sits down with artist Daphne Wright to explore her curation of the IMMA Collection: Freud Project exhibition Ethics of Scrutiny.

by Sue Rainsford / Fri Aug 24th, 2018
Freud Project

Homecoming: Frank Bowling and Lucian Freud

We invited Dr Nathan O'Donnell, currently IRC Enterprise Postdoctoral Research Fellow in connection with the IMMA Collection: Freud Project, to write on the relationship between Lucian Freud and Frank Bowling.

by Nathan O'Donnell / Mon Jun 25th, 2018

Landmark Lucian Freud Project and 2016 programme

IMMA announces landmark Lucian Freud Project for Ireland alongside an expanded 2016 programme of new work celebrating the radical thinkers and activists whose vision for courageous social change in Ireland a...

by / Thu Mar 24th, 2016
Freud Project / News

Behind the Blink. Freud Project Advertising Campaign

To celebrate the exhibition IMMA Collection: Freud Project, we asked advertising agency Irish International BBDO to create a 20 second advertisement that would capture the feeling of seeing a Freud work in t...

by / Wed Mar 15th, 2017

Up Next

Slow Looking & Porous Links in The Ethics of Scrutiny

Fri Aug 24th, 2018
IMMA invited artist Daphne Wright to curate a new exhibition from the IMMA Collection: Freud Project. The resulting exhibition – The Ethics of Scrutiny - takes aspects of Freud’s intimate studio practice as a starting point to explore themes of vulnerability, longing and loss that permeate the painter’s work, while also looking to the works of other artists who address on a wider scale the complexities of representation. Works by Lucian Freud are exhibited alongside work by other artists including Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dumas and John Berger. Sue: Ethics is something we think about in relation to the sciences, but not so readily in relation to the arts; why do you think that is? Why did you decide to include it in the title of the show? Daphne: I think art has resisted ethics, and questions of ethics. Probably for reasons of censorship: we pride the arts as being more liberal. What I was thinking about with the show was the ethics of looking, the ethics of the gaze and visual inquiry, and I think at the moment these are questions that are really culturally prevalent: who’s allowed look at who? With my own work, I think about the difference between scrutiny and examination: as art students, we’re provoked to look and to question, but then where’s the b...

Important Notice


We would like to advise our visitors that our Main Reception area is closed for renovation from 22 April until mid-June. A temporary reception is open on the ground floor next to the original main entrance. There are three exhibitions to visit  Hilary Heron: A Retrospective; Derry Film & Video Workshop and Self: Determination: Artists Commissions. IMMA’s shop, café and gardens are all open.