In search of the transcendent

Daniella Mooney’s choice of career as a sculptor is a direct result of a childhood spent avidly collecting, reassembling and reshaping natural treasures. Her grandfather was a carpenter, her father a forester and her mother a healer and collector of fine crystals and stones – and these early influences have had a marked effect on the materials she now uses.

“I’d like to think it’s a little bit like that feeling you get when you’re excited by a magic trick even though you already know how it works,” says Mooney, trying to describe the essence of her work. “I enjoy the hand tools that go with working with wood and stone. I have a small collection of outmoded gizmos and thingamajigs from my grandfather that I love having around my studio.”

The Nelspruit-born artist graduated from the Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town in 2009, and currently spends her days working from a shared studio in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town. In 2011 Mooney had her debut solo exhibition, Maybe Your Magic Is Working, at Whatiftheworld Gallery. For this she took on the role of ­creator and alchemist aiming to articulate the fragility, whimsy and inevitable decay that define the human condition.

In Golden Age Rising, her second exhibition of sculptures at Whatiftheworld, she is concerned with exploring the notion of the “numinous” – defined as “arousing spiritual or religious emotions and ­mysterious or awe-inspiring transcendent mystery”.

“The exhibition consists of seven sculptures produced over 18 months and is in keeping with my usual way of working, which involves installation, carving and collaboration. It deals with aspects of ritual, performance, celebration and an attempt to commune with and find the sacred within everyday life,” Mooney says.

The sculptures that make up Golden Age Rising include an electric organ fitted with a crystal sensor that produces sounds according to the movement of the sun, a porcelain archway, a marble disc inscribed with gold lettering and a glass cabinet containing seven small-scale sculptures titled Seven Sermons to the Dead.

Rather than a disjointed collection of works, however, the exhibition is presented as a whole in which the sculptures on display are meant to be experienced in relation to one another. “I feel that nothing is really experienced in isolation,” explains Mooney. “I see this body of work as being experimental in that I set out to try and understand more about the nature of my own beliefs. It’s quite an all-encompassing task and so I wanted to ask the audience to try to feel the space and their bodies in the space as opposed to over-rationalising their experience of each work.”

Reflecting on her process Mooney says: “Whatever it is you’re trying to create should be an answer to a question. It’s important to ask relevant questions.” Throughout the creation of Golden Age Rising, Mooney considered the question of what she holds to be sacred or divine in her own life, and the resulting works urge us to consider the same.

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This article is adapted from an interview with the artist that appeared on the creative showcase site

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