The lure of texture.
Updated: Jun 14
By Jemma Gunning.
All around us are tactile elements, whether in nature or in the urban landscape. For many years I have been drawn to surface textures found in the environment. Textures that have been made by nature or ones that have been purposefully created from human action. Years of exploration and discovery has subsequently led me to where I am today.
During my undergraduate degree I spent many hours drawing surfaces that had a trace of human presence due to their enigmatic aesthetic qualities. This started my journey and research into decay, remnants, marks and surface textures. Drawing for me has always been a tool for recording my discoveries and experiences in nature and the built environment. I began using printmaking to respond to my encounters due to its potential for mark making and after discovering the work of John Virtue.
It wasn’t until I moved to Bristol in 2015 to do my MA in printmaking that I started recording architectural decline. Soon after moving, I came across a fragmented castle like structure that jutted out of the ground along the harbour side. It constituted the passing of time and I was intrigued to find out more about its former life. I became obsessed, visiting frequently, drawing its architectural delights and slipping in behind the boundary lines. Inside, mother nature was firmly taking back her land, reminding me how powerful the natural world truly is. To get to know a new city I applied and was granted a residency at the Bristol Record Office. Here I was able to delve into their archives, allowing me to research into this curious fragmented form. My research revealed that the ruin belonged to the former New Gaol and was the gatehouse that doubled up as an execution platform. This sent shivers down my spine as I had stood where hundreds of people were killed.
This sparked an interest into dereliction and Bristol’s rich history. I set myself the task of hunting out abandoned buildings in the city. I quickly began a fascinating journey recording neglected structures that were slowly evolving into ruinous forms; many of which today have been replaced with shiny prefabricated buildings.
Post MA in 2018, I began exploring the themes of industrial decline, travelling further afield for inspiration to work from. This was mainly because the ones in Bristol had been redeveloped. Urban exploration is very much at the beginning of any work I produce. When I gain access into an abandoned building, I am transported into the past where its remnants contain clues to its past life. When I come across an abandoned building, I immediately get an overwhelming feeling of excitement. An adventure begins into the unknown. I am anxious of getting caught, if the building is safe, and what or who are the ruin’s inhabitants, will I be alone? This tension is juxtaposed with ruin lust, enjoyment, visual stimulation, motivating me to continue exploring the form. Often, the inside of an abandoned building contains just as much enchantment as the outer shell. Rusty pipes, peeling paint, neglected machinery, graffiti, and clues of past and current occupants are all entwined with natural forms. This dishevelled aesthetics provide inspiration to work from. It’s this thrill and apprehension that inspires me and keeps me going back for more.