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Updated: Dec 17, 2021

This past summer I was able to meet Tara Daly, an artist from the AIR Database who was celebrating her first solo exhibition at Applied Contemporary in Oakland, CA. What started out as a broken conversation over a choppy zoom call, turned into an in-person walk and talk-through of Daly’s dynamic practice, showcased in her exhibition Fragile Failing Found.

Daly is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and works within different modes of contemporary craft; primarily ceramics, woven works, and paintings. Each technique has its own approach to physically translating her conceptions of existential, cultural, and ecocidal theories. “I think the figurative sculptures are cerebral, the craft-based works are emotional, and the paintings are aspirational,” Daly said as she glanced self-critically around the gallery. This statement guided my visual experience of Fragile Failing Found, as well as the following inquiries into Daly’s practice.

Individuals are already collectives. - Bayo Akomolafe, 2021. Acrylic and metal foils on panel. ​​​​​​​ Image courtesy of Tara Daly.

This exhibition really shows how your practice almost has different species of work within a shared conceptual genus. Do you work on multiple pieces at once or do you focus on a ceramic series then move on to painting, for example?

I’m typically working on several pieces and in divergent directions at the same time. Even within a single material - like clay - I traverse from figurative to abstract, from building solid to hollow coil or slab structure, to altered wheel-thrown forms. When I get curious about trying something new, I jump in blind. I am always branching out, pressing into new areas, trying to push the boundaries of what I did last, stretching my comfort zones. We’re meant to be multilingual and multi-skilled, engaged in lifetimes of learning across activities that are seasonal. The idea of the specialist is really kinda capitalistic and anti-utilitarian, very much tied to the conceits of “civilization.” Conceits I am questioning in the face of the sixth mass extinction caused by globalized markets, “civilization.” Healthy systems are diverse, redundant, and variable. Monocultures, on the other hand, are vulnerable and invite pestilence. That’s a permaculture worldview I try to adopt in my art-making practice where I can.

Feedback Loops, 2019. Ceramic. Image courtesy of Tara Daly.

Unlike the majority of abstract work in this exhibition, your larger sculptural pieces are very referential. Could you talk a bit about what’s going on in Diana of Ephesus and the She-Wolf? Yes, I’d love to, although it’s a little challenging to answer this question without going into a rant. I titled the installation of the diptych ("Dianna of Ephesus" and "The She-Wolf and Her Fratricidal Pups") “The Holocene is Over, ” which is a quote from my friend and mentor Joe Brewer who wrote a book titled “The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth.” As a pair, the sculptures tell a story of empire and extraction causing the ecocidal collapse of Earth’s life systems on a massive geological scale. The piece is intended as what Tyson Yunkaporta would call a “counter curse,” a term he coined for something which corrects the curses that result from “wrong story,” or bad thinking polluting our capacities for sensemaking. I thought, initially, that I was making an eco-feminist critique about how ecocide is made possible by subjugating and denying the “sacred feminine,” but that critique has expanded a little the more I play with it.

The Dianna of Ephesus' abundant breasts, like a cluster of grapes around her torso, make her an especially intriguing figure. She is nature's generosity and abundance embod