Judith Wright by Geraldine Barlow
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
As we enter Judith Wright’s installation In the garden of good and evil 2014–18 we step into a forest of shadows. A path must be found between this landscape of sculptural elements, every limb amplified by the tangle of looming penumbrae. Some are cut from ply, drawn as an archetype of tree, fruit or creature; other figures are more eerily three-dimensional and include mannequins of children, sometimes strangely truncated or incomplete. Walking through Wright’s garden, we take a step closer to becoming a shadow among the shades.
The artist’s first career and training as a ballet dancer remains deeply threaded through her artistic language. It is as if she is still inviting us to join her in moving across the stage, finding our own path through the larger human narratives of loss and joy, trauma and tenderness.
Wright’s practice spans assemblage, installation, drawing, painting and film; woven throughout is the presence of loss, the resonating memory of her own experience of losing a child. From this emotional landscape, she seeks to acknowledge this beloved small soul and share something powerful with all of us. Mindful of the ‘loss held in the hearts and minds of those who loved them’, she explains, ‘I have sought to create a timeless garden replete with strange creatures and birds, some created from the offcuts of the sheltering “family trees”. My characters wander and play in this imaginary space.’(1)
It is not always an easy place to be, or to understand. An angel carries a fish weighted across a set of scales. A couple speak but they are only heads held within this painted garden. Creatures from fairy tales stretch elongated limbs. A plant grows from an upheld leg. The arching limbs of a tree bear heart‑ and womb‑shaped fruit that turn slowly. And all around, the shadows are almost more real than this carefully composed landscape of props and models.
Wright has long been fascinated by the allegory of the cave put forward by the Greek philosopher Plato. We can only construct our view of reality based upon the extent and coherence of the information to which we are exposed. He proposes we imagine a group of people held prisoner in a cave. Their perspective is constrained and they are forced to experience the world only as passing shadows, which would become their full measure of the real. What other truths might we encounter if we could shift our perspective?
Wright asks us to move across the stage with her, to leave something of the security of our own reality, to step into another potential narrative. She asks us to look around and be with the shadows.
(1) Judith Wright, ‘In the garden of good and evil: Judith Wright, personal insights’, QAGOMA Blog, at blog.qagoma.qld.gov.au/in-the-gardenof- good-and-evil-judith-wrights-personalinsights, accessed 10 February 2020.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Barlow, Geraldine. "Judith Wright" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 374-375.
GERALDINE BARLOW is Curatorial Manager, International Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.