In remaking suicide notes left by cult musicians and also re-staging the peculiar graffitization of their memorials and shrines by earnest fans, Dolphin's latest body of work re-authors and re-examines significant incidents of mark making in a (his) particular niche of the cultural landscape. Simultaneously critiquing and subject to the motivations and tensions surrounding these intensely personal and also very public items, Dolphin opens up this peculiar economy of text and mark making through the sheer force of his labour. He is adding his own scratches to the grave at Pere Lachaise, he too is pouring over the last writings of an artist, looking for meaning and significance.
The exhibition begins with four simple reproductions of written notes, drawings of pieces of paper bearing handwritten text. One documents the exterior of an envelope marked only, Deborah. The works reproduce the (alleged) suicide notes left by singers Elliot Smith, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis and Phil Ochs. These small amounts of text are depictions of items that have had a huge impact on their recipients, that are both hugely personal but also in public circulation, and occupy an odd position as popular ephemera.
The detached and inscrutable drawings are faced by another simple object whose cultural weight is determined only by the text scrawled over its surface. Dolphin has produced an exact replica of the wooden bench that sits in Viretta Park, Seattle, arbitrarily overlooking the site of Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994. This object has become an inadvertent memorial to the deceased rock star, through the weight of small, heartfelt but ultimately throwaway tributes scratched or drawn onto the wood by hundreds of fans visiting the spot. Dolphin has rebuilt this dense layering of inks, marker pen, tipex, and scratching that repeats Kurt RIP, Kurt Forever and similar abundant, banal phrases.
The final, completing element is a series of three replicas of the distinctly amateur bust of Jim Morrison that sat amongst the sea of graffiti at his grave in Paris. Originally produced by a fan, this item also became a surface into which visitors inscribed messages and tributes and indeed became fetishized itself, as people chipped parts of it off to keep and ultimately the item was stolen. Dolphin uses the limited number of public photographs of the object to recreate various states that occurred during the objects constant evolution over time. The crudeness of the fans representation make these busts seem faintly ridiculous and clown like, which perhaps could be mocking the dead star, certainly mocking our equally amateur feelings of reverence and loss.
These works seem delicately contradictory, simultaneously eliciting an emotional response from the viewer and also fore fronting our tenuous emotional attachments. The reproduced notes are without doubt tender and weighty but also partake of the melodramatic nostalgia and romance that seems to characterise our public response to death, and our awkward relationships with and genuine grief for, these deceased strangers.
This is Graham Dolphin's third solo exhibition for the gallery.