Dail Behennah

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Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery commissioned artist Dail Behennah as part of the first New Expressions project in 2008. The commission was the first in a programme of work enabling the museum to collaborate with leading artists.

Behennah’s 'Labelled' was displayed in the museum’s mezzanine window from 28 February 2009 to 1 May 2010. The work comprised of 490 suspended labels, each made of enamel printed with a label from natural history specimens belonging to the museum. The labels hung in three layers forming a circle over 2m wide. The circle was punctuated by red enamel labels indicating endangered or extinct species.

Behennah's work aimed to draw attention to the museum’s collections and their associated information, asking questions about why we collect and what we can learn from museums. It also made a statement about ecology and diversity, looking at the fragility of the natural world as highlighted by the red labels.

Helen Fothergill, Head of Collections, says: 'This project has restored my faith in artists. Dail hasn't just used the collections as source material, she has really engaged, been scientific in her approach, not just dabbling.

'The project is making us re-examine what we have got here. Dail's installation is highlighting how much stuff in the collection is actually at risk or extinct. She is looking at the totality of what we have'.

Dail says: 'This was the most important and enjoyable commission of my career to date. For the first time I had an opportunity to make work which was primarily about an idea rather than a structure.

'I undertook a concentrated period of learning how to use (enamel) in order to get the effect I wanted. As a result of this commission I am using both enamel and metal more in my practice.

'The project raised my profile as a thinker as well as a maker, and recently I have given keynote speeches and lectures both in England and America.

'Overall this project gave me more confidence, and has changed my focus from making decorative objects for the market to making work which can convey an idea'.

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New Expressions 1 artist Dail Behennah is currently based in Bristol but was born and grew up in Plymouth. 'Labelled' is her first large scale piece in enamel. Her work has been exhibited throughout the UK as well as in the USA and Japan including major commissions for Castle Park and Harbourside in Bristol and Taunton and Somerset Hospital.