Memory of a Space: Chapter 2
As I write this, we are amid the most serious global health pandemic that most of our societies have experienced. We are trying to balance our daily lives, while political finger-pointing plays out in these uncertain times. This health incursion does not recognize nationhood, sovereignty, or lines on a map. Experts direct us to isolate from each other, for our common good.
Jessie Chaney’s ongoing series Memories of a Space seems to be a portent of our current global crises. Abandoned buildings in desolate locations now may lure us as potential safe havens, if only we hadn’t already trashed them. Graffiti proclaiming ‘where love lives’, crudely updated to ‘where love lived’, is a cautionary quip for all of us. Another wall bears the question ‘looking for home?’, a query that encapsulates a sense of uncertainly that is shared across countries, borders and cultures. Where do we turn for a safe haven in times of trouble; times in which we are dealing with threats to humanity that are not defined by language or politics?
Chaney provides us with glimpses of lost details from lives once lived. We soon realize that a mannequin in the passenger seat is as close as we get to any population in her otherwise deserted locations. She forewarns a dystopian future where modern social norms are no longer enough to perpetuate rampant consumerism. In such a scenario, a plastic pigeon is the closest we have to wildlife. These are the long-abandoned homes of people previously considered as fringe-dwellers: their own desires for isolation seem to have become an absolute reality that others are now chasing.
Some other graffiti on a rundown house, boarded up with roofing tin, apologetically declares that place to be off limits. Is this a window into a new world or a New World Order? But not everything is as bleak as it may seem. While time, weather and vandalism have impacted these structures, they still maintain an inherent beauty, and indeed a continuing latent safety as a potential hideout. Their original occupants are long gone but their presence lingers. Despite the actions of vandals, the structures remain. Occasionally love pops up to remind us to be good to each other.
In another image an unseen hole in a wall casts a bright circle of light on a discarded sofa, like a beam from some unknown spacecraft, or an errant theatre spotlight from a gaffer that didn’t secure a lamp. Elsewhere, a row of empty stools face an empty bench of a long closed diner, while the image is concurrently dominated by the reflection of an empty carpark. People were here recently, but its been a while.
Despite the gloom and doom, Chaney’s astute observations yield beautifully mournful photographs. There’s an old adage that there is beauty in everything. Chaney’s adept framing of her images, particularly views through door jambs defining layers of the depth of images, and her eloquent witnessing of the play of light and shadow, humanize her artworks. These are not merely documentary photographs, they elude to an unexpected but all-too-real situation. We are experiencing something perilous, but we need not despair, for there is always beauty and hope out there.
Essay by Gordon Craig
Gordon Craig is a writer, curator and artist based in Brisbane, Australia. He has over twenty years’ experience in museums and galleries, primarily working with contemporary art, and has particular interests in photography and printmaking. He has curated over thirty exhibitions, and his writings on various aspects of art and photography have been published in over 50 books, catalogues and magazines.
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