‘A Biography of Daphne’, at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, until 5 September

‘A Biography of Daphne’ is an exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne, which draws inspiration from Classical Greek mythology as the ‘starting point to investigate trauma and metamorphosis, symbiosis and entanglement in contemporary art,’ notes ACCA. There are various intonations of this ancient mythological tale, which was first narrated in Metamorphoses an epic poem written by the Roman poet Ovid c.8CE.

With Victoria and Greater Sydney in lockdown, you can engage with this intriguing project online. Visit ACCA’s website to read more about the artists and their work. Click here to listen to artists Lauren Burrow and Nicolas Mangan in conversation about ‘The Biography of Daphne’. You can also join ACCA’s exhibition insights program every week through the free, bi-weekly Art in Focus sessions led by ACCA’s Visitor Experience Team highlighting one key work each session.

Jean-Luc Moulène, Fixed fountain 2021; La vigie [The lookout] 2004–10, installation view Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne 2021 Photograph: Andrew Curtis. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

The story goes something like this. Daphne, who vowed to remain a virgin and never marry, fled the lustful advances of Apollo, the Greek God of the Sun and Light, until she could bare it no more. Giving into the exhausting chase, the youthful naiad nymph begged her father, the river god Peneus, to save her from the perils of unrequited love. Obliging his daughter’s wishes Peneus used his powers to morph his daughter into a Laurel tree, only to plunge the two protagonists into an eternal state of flux – Daphne’s bohemian-like free spirit was forever trapped in the evergreen boughs of the Laurel, to watch on as Apollo himself was caught in a painful spell of insatiable love – a love he would never have.

In hindsight, if only Apollo had not mocked Eros the God of Love (Cupid), for his skills in archery, Eros would never have vowed his revenge. But he did, and to prove Apollo wrong Cupid took aim and shot his antagonist with a golden arrow causing Apollo to fall desperately in love with Daphne. But Eros didn’t stop there. Turning his rage on the young damsel, Eros shot Daphne with a lead arrow that filled her with hate for Apollo.

In response to the tale of Daphne and Apollo, Australian and international artists come together in ‘The Biography of Daphne’ with their investigative perceptions of not only the crisis and trauma at hand, but Daphne as a powerful symbol of female resistance and transformation, bringing the relevance of her experience into the realms of the contemporary world.

The exhibition explores ‘the integrity and vulnerability of bodies, their performative or prosthetic extensions, and the alliances they enter – across species or registers of representation – that open identity to the possibility of a radical othering,’ ACCA explains.

Lauren Burrow, A stick developing eyes 2020–21 (detail), installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne 2021. Photograph: Andrew Curtis. Courtesy the artist and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Importantly, the project includes a reflection on the sexual violence that precipitates Daphne’s metamorphosis, and the enduring prevalence of misogyny and aggressions towards women that continue to mark our present moment.

Developed by Melbourne-based curator and a PhD candidate in the Curatorial Practice program at MADA, Monash University, Mihnea Mircan, ‘A Biography of Daphne’ showcases newly commissioned and existing artworks by Becky Beasley, Erik Bünger, Lauren Burrow, Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni, Gabrielle Goliath, Ho Tzu Nyen, Sanja Iveković, Mathew Jones, Candice Lin and P. Staff, Steve McQueen, Jill Magid, Nicholas Mangan, Inge Meijer, Jean-Luc Moulène, Ciprian Mureșan, Agostino dei Musi, Jean Painlevé, Roee Rosen, Wingu Tingima, Mona Vǎtǎmanu and Florin Tudor, Anthonie Waterloo and Katie West.