Memory of a Space: Chapter 1
The abandoned sites that capture the attention of Jessie Chaney in her series Memory of a Space hold stories of the past, of changing times. Crumbling ruins, dilapidated buildings and remnant industrial structures left behind from time gone by are gradually returning to the earth – although some will last much longer than others. Entropy, and nature’s reclamation of the built environment, are often captured in a forlorn or even morose manner when photographers focus on the loss and damage of a defunct structure. Chaney takes different approach, finding beauty in crumbling decay.
The quality of light plays a crucial role in her work. Chaney often shoots in the ‘magic hours’ of the day, imbuing her images with a golden glow or conversely a slightly melancholic blue hue – and sometimes achieving both effects concurrently. Away from the harshness and dangers of the desert under the midday sun, the locales are softened, becoming much more inviting and hospitable. Chaney finds the landscape to be more like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, rather than The Grapes of Wrath.
With some images reminiscent of the urban landscape photography of William Eggleston, and also John Divola’s interiors, Chaney prompts an implied narrative that is never articulated. It is akin to interpreting words in a foreign language in which the reader knows a few words but cannot read fluently. A patchwork story comes to mind, where we bridge gaps in the tale and form our version of events.
Despite appearances, the neglected structures are quite recent victims of circumstance, be it changing economic fortunes or the relentless progress of industry. What could otherwise be the scene for depressing and desolate images are transformed by Chaney into something much more uplifting and positive. They are signs of the times, but more as monuments of a time passed than the debris from a time forgotten. Small altars and devotional items for personal acts of worship, albeit in less than pristine states, are testament to the importance of these places.
People are absent throughout the series, yet a human presence permeates. How many songs were played on an old piano, who played them and who was listening? What happened to the families and the jobs that were once here? Who sat in the blue metal chair? Where do those tunnels lead? While the objects and structures have long-passed their original functional usage, later inhabitations are evident through other human actions. Graffiti (like modern-day cave paintings) and ubiquitous shoe-tossings are markers of a more recent presence in the spaces. These markers say ‘I was here’, in a manner similar to the endless selfies that now preoccupy so many people’s lives.
While the flowers may be plastic they still possess an intrinsic beauty, adding another touch of humanity and an extra splash of color. These are places that people lived and worked, connected to a community where people looked out for each for other, and cared for each other. In the end, love is all you need.
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.