Jill Joubert’s Joyful Agency

“A folktale must be recreated each time. At the core of the narrative is the storyteller.”– Calvino, Italo, Italian Folktales [1]

by Sindi-Leigh McBride


I started this essay looking for a golden thread to tie Jill Joubert’s biography to her artistic practice, convinced that there was a simple way to frame my curiosity about her work, to explain the delight derived from poring over photos of her puppet-sculptures. While contemplating critical ways to situate her work, I continued to take pleasure in little things like the precision of simple mechanisms springing apparently-dead wood into action and the fantastic footnotes throughout her thesis submission for her Master of Fine Art degree, an interpretation and transformation of the Italian fairy tale, Apple Girl.

According to Joubert, “a puppet is neither a doll nor a sculpture…[but] a spirit figure with an uncanny sense of life.” [2] Her idiosyncratic tableaux-on-wheels can be described as groups of sculptural spiritual figures with the potential of movement, arranged to represent a scene from a story or legend. [3] Conceived through the properties of carved wood and found-objects, collectively, the tableaux constellations also function as miniature puppet theatres that are either animated through performances by Joubert or viewed as static artworks, fixed arrangements to which the performance has given a framework for interpretation.

Read More