Selected by Unseen Platform
Flaking paint, rusting metal and puddles of oil are reframed as sights of memory and unexpected beauty in Jo Dennis’ latest project.
Decay is a recurring theme for multidisciplinary artist Jo Dennis, whose previous projects have involved salvaging materials from an old chapel and photographing derelict hotels on the Greek island of Skiathos. For her latest series, Dennis took inspiration from the abandoned yard behind her London studio on Old Kent Road.
For forty years, the yard was used to sell old car parts. But after the owner retired the site fell into disrepair. Today, traces of the yard’s former activities are still visible; old tires and jerry cans are scattered amongst rubbish from fly-tippers, and a hand-painted sign declares ‘No Parts Can Leave Yard Without Payment’ – which Dennis took to name her show at Peckham 24. After discovering that the old car yard would be demolished to make way for a block of flats, Dennis felt compelled to document the place. ‘The grit and the shambolic nature of the structures.’
Texture is a central motif in these works, as Dennis focuses her lens on small details from the yard. A closeup shot of flaking yellow paint on twisted metal attests to years of slow decay. An image of rough black tarmac is transformed into vibrant hues by an iridescent pool of spilled oil. In another piece, layers of wood and rusting corrugated iron form an abstract collage.
Dennis readily admits that her subjects are not conventionally “beautiful”. But she believes that with the correct framing it is possible to find beauty anywhere. This is where her background as a painter is palpable. The artist is drawn to “found paintings” – pre-existing compositions which she discovers in her surroundings and is able to spontaneously capture with her camera. ‘When you frame it in a photograph you can really understand the compositions in these everyday spaces.’
Aside from its visual properties, Yard contemplates the history of objects and asks the viewer to consider the memories such items hold. But the series is neither nostalgic or sentimental, nor has it been created as a protest against gentrification. Rather, the photographs offer a reflection on the passing of time and the inevitability of change. What does an object become once it loses its function?
This particular yard will soon disappear, but these works remind us that, with the right framing, sights of beauty can be found anywhere. ‘There are places like this all over the world. That’s a nice thought, isn’t it?’
Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform