Notes on Derek Jarman’s Blue
curated by Donald Smith
29.01.14 – 15.03.14
Private view: 28th January 2014 6 – 8.30pm
Almost Bliss is a contemplation on the filmmaker, artist, writer, and activist Derek Jarman. This installation centres on a set of Jarman’s hand painted and carefully written notebooks, giving insight into the artist’s creative thinking towards his seminal late film work, Blue. The dates of the exhibition encompass both the date of Jarman’s birth on 31st January 1942 and the date when he died, February 19th 1994, sadly marking the 20th anniversary of the artist’s death.
Almost Bliss gives a sense of what could have been, alluding to the tragedy of Jarman’s premature demise from AIDS related illness aged 52 and referring to the evidence that ‘Bliss’ was the original title for what was to become the film Blue (‘Bliss’ is etched into a fragment of glass on the cover of the first notebook and the title page announces ‘A Blueprint for Bliss’). Almost Bliss is also the title of a 1990 album of ambient music by Simon Fisher Turner who composed the soundtracks for many of Derek Jarman’s films including Blue.
The exhibition makes reference to two earlier installations linked to Jarman: one by Mark Wallinger in 1994 and another by Peter Fillingham with Keith Collins in 1999. The Wallinger installation was part of a show entitled Every Now and Then by the curatorial collective, Rear Window and set in the Kensington galleries and home of the art dealer and Jarman’s gallerist Richard Salmon. Prior to his death, Derek Jarman had used one of these purpose-built Victorian studios to make his large-scale visceral paintings with his assistant and friend Karl Lydon.
Wallinger’s installation preserved the atmosphere of the working studio minus the artist; Jarman’s painting paraphernalia- brushes, paints, etc. were left in place along with his paint-splattered overalls draped over his old armchair. Around the walls were blank canvases and in the middle of the room, a grand piano and the sound of a piano being tuned, giving an overwhelming sense of the potential of all of the art that was never made. Wallinger’s blank music manuscript paper from the 1994 exhibition is included in Almost Bliss.
The second reference is to Peter Fillingham and Keith Collins’ Blue rooms for the 1999 exhibition Stimuli at the Witte de With in Rotterdam. Fillingham was invited by former Witte de With Director, Chris Dercon, (currently Director of Tate Modern) to participate in a group exhibition around the themes of physical and hallucinatory experience. Peter Fillingham took Derek Jarman’s Blue as his starting point but, as a close collaborator of Jarman’s, he chose not to make an archive show but rather to create an ambient environment in which to contemplate and celebrate his late friend. Lights and windows were covered in blue gels and photographed pages of Jarman’s Blue notebooks were shown in vitrines (the pages were photographed by Donald Smith, now Director of CHELSEA space and curator of Almost Bliss). The #2 FROM publication (a Witte de With periodical, published between 1999 and 2001), open at the pages showing images of the installation and commentary by Peter Fillingham and Keith Collins, is shown in the exhibition.
In 1996, Chris Dercon produced a documentary for Dutch television on art and cinema titled Still/A Novel. The final scene shows Dercon walking in front of the projection of Jarman’s Blue. The voiceover interview between Chris Dercon and film producer and director Hartmut Bitomsky, ends ‘…the cinema, in order to survive?’ ‘it will vanish’. Dercon kindly gave permission to Donald Smith to use the material from the documentary and the final scene has been re-edited for Almost Bliss by artist Debra Welch.
The material in the entrance space is accompanied by additional publications and ephemera relating to Derek Jarman’s Blue.
At the end of the blue-tinted ramp is an original print signed by Derek Jarman. The print was published to accompany the deluxe edition of the Blue script, in an edition of 150 by The Blue Press, an imprint of Salmon Shaw Dane Watson in 1994.
A soundtrack, including Yves Klein’s 1949 Monotone Symphony, and Waves on the Beach at Dungeness, recorded by Keith Collins, has been compiled for Almost Bliss.
In the main space, the walls are lined with facsimile pages of two of Jarman’s Blueprint notebooks and a vitrine includes Jarman’s original sketchbooks, notes, research books, a canister of test cine film and other ephemera related to Jarman’s Yves Klein-inspired monochrome movie.
The show also provides an informal reading room for the new book Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks, edited by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall, published by Thames & Hudson, which reveals the full scope of his working ideas and creative processes. Derek Jarman’s importance becomes ever clearer and his influence is growing amongst a generation that he sadly never met.
As with each exhibition at CHELSEA space, Almost Bliss is accompanied by a new black and white publication. Titled A VOID, the images in the publication are a collection of Derek Jarman’s possessions, which both depict and represent voids, holes and empty spaces.