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Town Hall Disco 

Solo Show at New Child Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium. 
8th Dec 2023 - 25th Jan 2024

There exists a tendency to situate an object of waste somewhere between two extremes: as ‘just a modest thing’ by which to measure some process or change or more spectacularly, as a thing through which to experience a full blown revelation. The former sees waste as a mere outcome or a product of time (its time has ‘run out’, it has ‘had its day’, ‘past it’). The latter elevates waste as the necessary condition for spiritual, artistic and political change - that is, it helps form and articulate time itself.

— William Viney, Waste: A Philosophy ofThings (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)

The oscillation between control and its absence lingers with us from the moment we grasp the structures that govern our lives. In Town Hall Disco, artist Jo Dennis uses abstraction to skilfully engage in this interplay of control, crafting works that brim with excitement and angst. The title, derived from one of Dennis’ paintings, catapults us back to the initial social interactions of young adulthood — a time defined by teenage fervour and the desire to regulate the entropic nature of existence. Comprising works straddling the realms of painting and sculpture, these pieces feature surfaces that encapsulate history, embodying a visual language rich with the emotional weight of memories and a profound sense of place, whether real or imagined.

In Town Hall Disco, preservation and destruction infiltrate every work, embodying Dennis’ fascination with blending opposing concepts. For Dennis, abstraction isn’t separate from representation; rather, impermanence is recognized as leaving indelible marks on both objects and individuals. Her keen interest in ruins, a longstanding metaphor for human mortality in art history, serves as a potent reminder of life’s fragility and the inevitable passage of time. Within this context, these “waste items” carry socio and geographical markers. Home Front, a large sculpture of sewn fabrics from her series Absent Without Leave, pays homage to womanhood, home, and shelter. It stands tall with painted military fabrics supported by a metal structure, creating a facade-like appearance reminiscent of London’s historic buildings where facades are left intact yet demolished on the inside. Despite its scale, the piece exudes fragility, seemingly on the verge of disassembling. In her exploration, Dennis delves into the inherent sensibilities of these structures, remnants, residue, and scars, a compelling reminder of the past.The concept of “home front,” originating from military jargon, refers to the activities of the civilian population during wartime. Dennis ventures into an inquiry concerning the stability and continual transformation of bodies, objects, and architecture. Amid the overarching themes of loss, decay, and the female body, Home Front vividly describes a ruined house, metaphorically narrating the female body’s ravages by time and childbirth.

For Dennis, each work functions as a “container,” embodying archetypes and expected behaviours. In Twins, a sculptural painting of folded fabrics symbolizes control and fluidity, reminiscent of feminine archetypes and relationships. The shape the fabric takes develops with each individual section of the piece, seemingly being held as a form of caring support. Another work in the exhibition, The Sill Plate, features an energetic painting composed as a diptych. The title is derived from the architectural term for the bottom horizontal member of a wall or building, to which vertical members are attached. Represented in the painting by the thick red band near the bottom, it serves as a kind of foundation for the rest of the piece. Dennis explains, In using the word ‘foundation,’ I refer to the construction sense of the term, alluding to the built environment.” In all of Dennis’ sculptural paintings, the material contents slowly reveal themselves. The steel frameworks act as the support structure/control, while the folded, unravelling fabric serves as the more fluid and emotional aspect, conjured by memories of her personal experience.