Daphne was a torso ending in leaves

2024, 13 minutes

Digitised 16mm film with phytograms, colour footage, and black & white footage developed in bay leaves

Camera, black & white development, edit, text - Catriona Gallagher

Composition & sound design - Alyssa Moxley

Developed during a fellowship for the Bridget Riley Foundation at the British School at Rome, Sep 2022 - Mar 2023 

'Daphne was a torso ending in leaves is a playful and witty ode to a star of classical mythology: Daphne. Here, the beautiful nymph, who was metamorphosed into a tree to escape a stalking God, is celebrated as a heroine and master of her destiny. But this cinematic gem, shot on 16mm is above all a rich filmic experience, in which images and sound are meticulously intertwined to immerse the spectator in a universe of myth and legend.'

– Rebecca De Pas, IFFR

World Festival Premiere: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Tiger Shorts Competition), January 2024. Winner of the KNF Award.

The mythical metamorphosis of the nymph Daphne into a bay-laurel tree is reapproached in contemporary Rome, a landscape once surrounded by native laurel forests and still home to persistent depictions of the woman-tree-symbol in laurel wreaths and festoons. From hedges in parks & gardens to laureates for graduating students, Daphne (δἀφνη/alloro/bay-laurel) is both the subject of the film and the key ingredient of its making. The artist films making an infusion from a laurel wreath then hand-processes the black & white 16mm footage of its making. This is a film made about Daphne, with daphne, foregrounding her story through the plant’s phytochemistry. The hand development process folds into the thematic exploration of the plant’s symbolism as the camera lingers on Daphne’s historic and persisting depiction in Etruscan burial grounds, the botanical code of Augustus’ Ara Pacis monument and the garden frescoes of the Villa di Livia. The Baroque sculpture of Apollo attempting to rape Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which art historian Griselda Pollock responded to with a gasp, is here answered with a sigh. This instigates an attempt to reverse-metamorphose Daphne, breaking Ovid’s symbol and envisioning metamorphosis from the inside.

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