Derek Jarman exhibition to be staged in Derry

A scene from Derek Jarman's The Last of England (1987)
A scene from Derek Jarman's The Last of England (1987)

Derry’s Void gallery is to host a new exhibition centred around the work of globally renowned film-maker, artist and activist, the late Derek Jarman.

‘The Last of England’ is being presented in collaboration with IMMA Ireland.

Void staff said they were delighted to present an exhibition that explores the work of one of Britain’s most iconic filmmakers, painter, writer, gardener and political activists, stating that his work resonates for the current political landscape of Brexit and impasse at the Assembly.

The new exhibition will open on Friday November 15, with a special preview from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. This will be followed by an after party at St Columb’s Hall with music by Michael Bradley, doors from 8:30pm and music 9-11pm.

On Saturday, November 16 there will be screenings of Derek Jarman’s Super 8 films with an introduction by film producer and moving image curator James Mackay, from 1-3pm in the Void Process Room.

Speaking about the new exhibition, a spokesperson for Void said: “During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jarman shifted from being apolitical – with his films documenting his private life in a ‘cinema of small gestures’ – to being at the centre of the queer movement, with his activism firmly integrated into his films.

“In this exhibition, Jarman’s politics and activism are at the forefront; the GBH painting series (1983-84) and his film The Last of England (1987) reflect and resonate with our current political crisis.

“Created in response to social injustices of the late ‘80s, the themes of The Last of England still reverberate widely across contemporary Britain and Northern Ireland. Jarman’s apocalyptic, postcolonial depictions of the ‘fall of England’ - reflecting the country’s desire to return to its ‘Imperial days’ - are ever present in the current political landscape, from Brexit, parliamentary suspensions and the absence of a government at Stormont, to the rise of nationalism, fascism and state surveillance. We are at an impasse in Northern Ireland and are once again at the mercy of Westminster decision-making.”

The film references the AIDS epidemic and the collective trauma that was experienced at that time. It was initially going to be titled ‘GBH The Last Of England’, reflecting the destruction of the landscape and culture of England, and more personally the body through AIDS.

Jarman said the GBH could stand for “whatever you want it to: grievous bodily harm, great British horror, gargantuan bloody H-bomb”.

“Instead he used the GBH title for his painting series, depicting the map of England in various stages of being enflamed. In exhibiting these works, it punctuates this particular moment in Northern Ireland and the UK political history, to show the parallels in the political struggle from then and now,” the Void spokesperson said, adding:

“In the Shadow of the Sun (1981) meanwhile will also be exhibited, reflecting his earlier works that are more biographical. This consists of a series of Super 8 films that were shot between 1972 and 1975, edited together with the soundtrack by Throbbing Gristle. This film was part of a body of film works referred to as the ‘cinema of small gestures’; the use of filters and the atmosphere of the film contrasts the dystopic sensibility of The Last of England.

“The culmination of these works at Void allow for both a celebration of his work and highlight the continuing need to agitate and disrupt. The legacy of Jarman’s work and gay rights activists both past and present are demonstrated in recent societal and legislative changes; legalisation of gay marriage in Northern Ireland. Jarman’s work is prescient and has a strong resonance to our times.”

Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, political activist and author. He was educated at the University of London and at the Slade School of Art. In 1967 Jarman exhibited in Young Contemporaries, Tate Gallery, London (prizewinner); Edinburgh Open 100, Lisson Gallery, London and Fifth Biennale des Jeunes Artistes, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris. Jarman’s first work in the cinema was as a set designer on Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), selected set designs include Savage Messiah (1972) and The Rake’s Progress (1982) with numerous designs for stage and ballet. Jarman’s first films were experimental Super 8mm shorts, his first full-length feature film, Sebastiane was released in 1976, followed by selected films Jubilee (1978), Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), The Garden (1990) and Edward II (1991).

Jarman also wrote several books, including the autobiographical Dancing Ledge (1984) and two volumes of memoirs, Modern Nature (1992) and At Your Own Risk (1992). Derek Jarman’s Garden, which documents the creation of his extraordinary garden at Dungeness, was published in 1995.

The exhibition will run at Void until January 18, 2020.