Nanda/Hobbs Gallery, Sydney
Essay by Joey Hespe
American poet, Robert Frost, refers to the deceptive nature of the well in his poem For Once Then Something:
“Always wrong to the light, so never seeing, deeper down in the well than where the water gives me back in a shining surface picture…. One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple shook whatever it was lay there at bottom, blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness? Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something”.
The water well has been crucial to the survival of human life. Throughout history, communities have grown and thrived by our need for water—without water life fades, people move on, communities fracture and disperse. Metaphorically, the well has many guises—it has been used as a symbol to delve into self-reflection, exploring the notions of truth in all its contemporary smoke and mirror connotations. This theme of survival, and by extension an exploration and search for truth, is intrinsic to Woodroffe’s latest exhibition The Well. Through her rich layered glazes, there is a referencing of her personal story and connection with the history of her home and landscape in Tasmania.
Much of the imagery evolves out of the darkness of the well or, is it the darkness of the Islands history? Colonialism—with its empire building and associated latter-day acceptance of past wrongs—effect much of the contemporary Tasmanian psyche. This was a land that was acquired by force, and an ancient history expunged from the colonial record. However, the true story of the Aboriginal people and their culture has survived, and through the works of artists like Woodroffe, the historical imbalance is addressed.
Woodroffe’s recurrent motifs; butterflies, flowers, patterned china plates, goldfish, fruit, shells, morph into spheres of hope—an aesthetic that is synonymous with her highly regarded practice. The beautiful detritus from history lay motionless; suspended in the hauntingly dark abyss of the well. Each image—her own Wunderkammer of collected memories, objects and history—each symbol and motif finely detailed, representative of tangible objects and distinct stories collected along journeys travelling the world. Objects are layered like wallpaper, and dinner plates are stitched together creating a narrative patchwork quilt; referencing the layering of truth and the re-telling her story and history of her island home.
Woodroffe has created access to another world, allowing us to enter a dreamscape of histories and tales from our past. It is a place where the truth lies at the bottom of a well.