…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.
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.