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The National 2021: New Australian Art, JUDITH WRIGHT, NATURE/NURTURE, 2020, Synthetic Polymer paint and wax on Japanese Rice Paper, wood lightbox & Single Channel Digital video (looped), INSTALLATION VIEW: MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SYDNEY, Australia, 2021, PHOTOGRAPH: ANNA KUCERA
…I can’t help but think of Peter Pan, who had his shadow separated from him, which resulted in him being destined to never grow old—youthful and brave but denied the dimensions that come with age. I was always horrified by the image of Wendy stitching Peter’s shadow back on but have learned that we require both the shadows and the light in the same way. To understand happiness, we must know sadness; to value possession, we must reconcile loss. Peter himself represented all children who were lost to us and lived in the shadows of our thoughts and feelings.
In Tanazaki’s In Praise of Shadows, the writer speaks to the ‘binary’ notions that frame much Western thinking—truth made evident via teaching based on high contrast. Tanazaki suggests that eastern philosophy prefers to seek the truth in the shadows; that in the flux and uncertainty of half-light, a deeper revelation is made.
I have long felt that Wright’s installations, A journey 2011 and Destination 2013, openly declare her desire to play and to use theatre and shadow as a tool of recollection. Her curious melancholy puppetry is less about the family of surrealist playmates she assembles, but rather the fugitive shadows they cast, which lengthen and distort, illuminate and fade, like memories. This scavenger sculptor is still painting on the wall but this time with light and shadow. Amid these shadows is a troubled and fraught arena that is nevertheless a place of playful remembrance. She extends an invitation to us to join in this intimate play, aware this is exactly what children enjoy—the comfort of knowing we can reassemble our imaginary worlds.
My dance experience has been very influential in the formation of my art practice. Movement and space – the intimate spatial connections between two bodies – are crucial
– Judith Wright
Even in the large-scale paper works, such as Relative conversations, one can sense her repeatedly circumnavigating the two-metre sheets of paper; if not dancing, then at least aided by her flexibility and rhythmic sense. Wright moves around each side, working from top to bottom, side to side, and then inverting the axis so that the traces of figuration retreat further into an atmosphere of rich pigment and the undulations of the Japanese paper.
The traces of physical form in these pieces exist only as shadows, which are hinted at in the curve and sweep of a fulsome body-part. Sensual, cherubic shadow lines fall across the composition but ultimately are subjugated by the materials and repetitive process. Looking at Wright’s work over the years, one gets a real sense that the fundamental concerns, at least conceptually, are being repeated and that whatever joy can be felt is due to this repetition making memory tangible.
Recently, a friend was describing a scene in Breaking Bad between characters Jesse Pinkman and his girlfriend Jane Margolis, where they debate the merits of Georgia O’Keeffe’s repeated motif of a door. While Pinkman suggests there is a lunacy in this behaviour, Margolis believes that O’Keeffe was motivated by the fact that the “door was her home and she loved it. To me that’s about making that feeling last”.
For Wright, the patina of memory and attachment is measured in the shadows. To reconcile loss requires she must stitch her own shadow back on, and the repetition that underpins so much of her practice is very much about making that feeling last.
– Andrew Jensen
Memory plays a crucial role in the work. Visual recollection, sound, smell, for instance, are powerful stimulants for memory. Collectively they adhere, holding together the experiences of what it is to be in the world – the joy, the sadness, the vulnerability, the tenderness and the tragedy, all become part of the current fabric of our lives through memory.
– Judith Wright
Australian artist Judith Wright (b.1945) is based in the city in which she was born, Brisbane, Australia.
In 1993, Wright was awarded a Fellowship from Arts Queensland and had a ‘Fire and Life’ residency at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane. In the same year she also participated in Celebrate Australia in Tokyo, Japan. In 1996, her ‘Fire and Life’ residency led to an exchange to Calcutta, India and two years later she received a Professional Development Grant from the Queensland Government. In 2002, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Queensland University of Technology. Following this, Wright had a residency in New York at the Australia Council’s Greene St. studio in 2005 and then was awarded a Fellowship from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for Arts in 2008.
Her works can be found in collections in Australia, New Zealand and Japan including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand.
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2020 Adelaide Biennal of Australian Art, JUDITH WRIGHT, Monster Theatres featuring Tales of Enchantment, 2020, Mixed media Installation, Variable dimensions, Installation View: ART GALLERY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA, ADELAIDE, 2020. PHOTOGRAPH: SAUL STEED.
JUDITH WRIGHT. contemporary australia: women. goma