Here is another kind of art I like: the anonymous, the cobbled together, the hand-me down, the postscript, collaborations between strangers that marry together jubilantly, but don’t quite fit.Writer and art critic Olivia Laing, on how Derek Jarman mixed art, gardening, filmmaking and writing*
I recently spotted an exhibition calling for videos featuring blue, after Derek Jarman’s final film. Ten years ago, I completed a Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and the way AIDS affected art and relationships was one of the research areas of several of the lecturers. Looking at the tensions, pulls and responses it created was interesting, revealing a complexity of which I was unaware. It was not the same as Covid, but there are parallels in terms of holding onto a life engaged with ones identity and the risks that entails. Now I make video art, a practising artist, I was keen to engage or respond to it, aware of the limitations of what I could do.
However. As I started filling out the submission form, I discovered I lived outside the specified area for the exhibition! I could have understood that more if the location had been close to Derek Jarman’s stamping grounds. But it wasn’t.
But extra time spent living with work can be beneficial. Between that first completion and the finalised work, it became more closely engaged, crossing virtual worlds with nineteenth century watercolour paint listings more effectively. As Monica Pearl, one of the MA lecturers said, I was giving myself the time to discover subtlety and nuance. Nonetheless, the significance of blue for Derek Jarman was more profound than I would ever presume to match. What I made is a response that acknowledges and is a tribute to that original work. It certainly doesn’t try to replace or exceed it.
As always, I am cobbling together and collaborating between strangers. The work contains creative commons music by the Blue Dot Sessions, words I am reciting taken from Windsor and Newton catalogues, and a mixture of virtual world material from various sources.
I began the post with a quote. It was on the radio as I was finalising the dissertation for my PhD in Contemporary Art. That quote is now included in it. I always try to build connections across space and time, and between different people’s work. I do not claim originality of uniqueness. Olivia Laing’s passionate description of Derek Jarman’s work as ‘collaborations between strangers that marry together jubilantly’ matches so closely to how I work, and how I want to work. It is my artistic motivation. So much creativity is marginalised by ownership dominated by capitalism and the rule of copyright. What really matters is people doing what is inventive and what they are passionate about. Being human instead of the pursuit of profit.
I also included it in my talk video for the Supernova Digital Animation Festival, which played alongside the video art they accepted, out of isolation came forth light. So this is what I said, with his words at 1 minute 29 seconds.
- Olivia Laing (2020) Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency. London: Picador.