Amazing Art: The Mystical Power of Ordinary Objects | The Films of Daphne Rosenthal

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“Most of what we own has been produced and made with a purpose. But things also exist outside of their functionality. When objects are placed outside of their domain, their role – let alone their origin – they can get lost. They are of no use to anybody; they can only be what they are. At this point they are fit for a part in one of my films.” (Daphne Rosenthal, Artist + Filmmaker, Netherlands)


Knitted by needle and thread, falling textiles and depicted by stop motion…Daphne Rosenthal’s films are full of haunting vignettes  made of ordinary moments and materials, awash in neo-victorian darkness, traditions of craft, and even inflected by the political dialogues of feminist art. In these enigmatic and mesmerizing worlds, she presents abstracted scenery, inanimate objects moving as if living forms, red womb like interiors pulsating with light and sound, strange hosts to beads, and fabric….


daphne rosenthal red interior beads


“An Unnoticeable tiny thing almost devoid of identity that nevertheless will probably outlive us all.” 

Watching a Rosenthal film recalls the romance of found objects. This is a place where memory dwells, but an imaginative sort. Here, soundless stories woven from an imaginary memory, repurposed for a role unrelated to their original place… every one has these items, whether a ball of knitting wools, collected stones with fool’s gold, a grandmother’s empty boxes, a faded black and white photo of a small child in the wheat fields of Saskatchewan,  a hand embroidered handkerchief, and old tattered personal letters. These are the things we come upon, collect, and seem to wonder at…..

That these once ordinary things are discarded, their original owners no longer part of this world, is a strange phenomena, a sort of haunting, an irony in a world of disposal items and commercial accumulation. In light of this ahistorical existence of things, Daphne confides that she finds Franz Kafka’s short story particularly gripping: “The Cares of a Family Man speaks of an unnoticeable tiny thing almost devoid of identity that nevertheless will probably outlive us all.” 

The artist is a self-described collector, and a maker of assemblages made from found objects and curiosities, collected from various sources haberdashery, discarded or recycled fabric, flea markets, 99-cent stores, and even trash. Everything I choose has unique qualities: it shimmers like gold, is distinctly woolly, or has some sort of capricious behavior.

Daphne uses these materials as her departure point, but does not entirely set out with a plan. Of these varied materials that eventually make their way into an artistic assemblage or are even transformed into a character in one of her films.

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The artist prizes the materials for their abstract qualities, the sounds they make, as well as the strangeness of juxtapositions, she remarks of her film The Forgetting of Objects, that she intends to present elementary sensations such as falling, rolling, pressing, trembling, and tingling.

The characteristics and shapes of the materials used are inherent to this movement:

A little ball has a potential to roll, an angular shape won’t move that smoothly, but when gravity allows, downward it goes. We shall record this as a stumbling, staggering rolling. Some fabrics seem to be born to rustle, a fluff of wool falls soft as snow. These movements resonate in our body as we perceive them.”

Daphne’s film’s title refers to Sigmund Freud’s essay The Forgetting Of Foreign Words addresses the way the meaning of ideas, objects and words is a reflection of the inner life, what she describes as “how one association pushes another to the background; how our inner life is built out of conflict – a continuous competition of thoughts, sensations and memories for the prime seat of our consciousness.”

Most recently, the artist and Dutch Artist Richtje Reinsma founded the artist collective DRR. As artists in residence at the Wende Museum, Culver City they drew upon the museum collection to create the project: Free Things.

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For the exhibit Artistic Interpretations of the Cold War, the pair created a series of works as part of the Free Things cycle which explored the way in which ordinary objects and technologies inform memory and behavior, with a special focus on the telephone and its emerging role and changing technology. Works included After the Beep, 2015; Long Distance, 2015, and The Sounds the Telephones No Longer Make (2015).


RB: Please tell me about your inspirations and favorite artists, types of objects etc.?

DR: Most of all, the wonderful works of thousands of anonymous artists: creators of roadside shrines in North India, medieval reliquaries, Inca feather garments, the Lewis Chessman, the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, piñatas, Majolica Pharmacy jars from the Italian Renaissance, Japanese kimonos, Hopi statues, ceramics made by children, gingerbread men.


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RB: Please tell me more about the picture At Sea, and film it’s from —the animation Heer Halewyn’s Song?

DR: At Sea is a still from my animation Heer Halewyn’s Song (2011). This film is loosely based on an old Dutch tale where a young Princess (a big knot of ribbons) leaves home on her horse (a bit of pillow filler that actually looks more like a dinosaur) to seek a man (a petrol velvet bag) by following his voice (a singing saw). Of course the man is no good and she ends up beheading him, taking his head home as a trophy. In the end everybody is happy and dancing. The image above shows the moment where the Princess and her horse are bound to cross a sea. The materials speak for themselves; the painted cardboard on this photo remains what it is, but at the same time represents water. As a collection of ribbons,  the Princess can be made to cringe, dance, retreat and explode in most expressive ways. All of the characters and landscapes in this film can fall apart at any given moment.


Watch this showreel for an entrancing sample of Rosenthal’s films….


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