Jemma Gunning tells us its OK to go slow and observe…
Despite being only miles apart here in our corner of the UK, gifted Printmaker and artist Jemma Gunning and Cranfield’s Michael Craine last met on a virtual event hosted in Toronto for Printmakers in North America! Cranfield were invited onto the program to give an ink-eye view of Jemma’s work if required, but in truth, the methods, media and subject matter that Jemma uses provided sufficient material for several programs without Cranfield’s assistance! Jemma is skilled as an artist, printmaker, curator and the founder and sole member of the Bristol Tree and Factory Fence Climbing Club. A necessary skill as a self-confessed Urban Explorer. The recent exhibition ‘The Fading City’ showcased new work by Jemma and Tracey Thorne (photographer) that took as inspiration the dilapidation and decay of some of Bristol’s former industrial areas. Much of the work is in monochrome produced by etching and stone lithography.
‘My work explores the landscape, documenting social and historical significance’s that are visible of being lost. Decaying architectural surface layers provide a trace and glimpse of our past history, fuelling my desire to visually record and document these transient states.’
For the exhibition Jemma produced new work commissioned by the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage project. So for this commission Jemma was able to visit two derelict buildings, Alabaster and Wilson and Unity Works to record their transient states, capturing the fading heritage.
‘The use of intaglio and mono-printing processes resonate with the decaying structures that I have recorded, preserving memories and documenting these extraordinary spaces.’
Jemma’s undergraduate studies focused on drawing, but even here Jemma had a fascination with texture, the archaeological layers of rust and debris and decay that signified in visual form the decay seen to the industries concerned. Recording this state of flux is almost magical as once an occupant has left a building, nature quickly takes over. The questions as to who once worked here, what were their lives like, was it a good and safe place to work and who else has been in here since the last occupants went out of business or moved can all be asked. The amount of ‘stuff’ that remains in some of these vast plants is fascinating and at times extremely poignant. Machinery, paperwork, notice boards with shift patterns and reminders that this was the workplace of real people. Lockers, work clothes and coffee cups further enhance the possible narratives.
Jemma’s work is an amalgamation of drawings made on site and photographs taken that are turned into print back at Bristol Print Atelier, a printmaking studio in South Bristol that Jemma co-established. Bristol has undergone massive regeneration over the last few years. Jemma and Tracey are therefore racing against time to record and explore before many of these harbour side and industrial buildings are demolished to make way for modern apartments. Jemma believes that erasing these links with the past is a needless severance between the present day and what provided employment and prosperity to the area in the past.