If you haven’t already had the good fortune to go see Derek Jarman: Pandemonium at Somerset House then you only have this weekend to do so. And I urge you, do so. This exhibition, sparsely curated by Mark Turner, is a truly moving experience and all the more so for it’s unpretentious approach, which acts as a reminder of the innocence at the heart of this wonderfully innovative multi-media artist. The handful of notebooks, photographs, scraps of paper scrawled with messages and plans scattered among a few rooms and posters stuck to the wall as if in a student bedroom are evocative of a man who was spilling over with ideas. A mask made from a brown paper bag epitomises his childlike wonder and hand-to-mouth creative splendour. One of Jarman’s Super 8 cameras with his name and address scratched on the side tells it’s own story. Footage of The Last of England projected on multiple make-shift screens, a mesmeric montage of yesteryear home-movies, desolate haunting vistas, rough sex, balaclava clad military men that appear all too chillingly familiar and spectral flares filmed in majestic slow-motion reignited my soul. And do take advantage of the headphones, which offer a poignant soundtrack that includes ‘O ignis spiritus’ from a poem by Hildegard Von Bingen, Cave of Roses by Coil, Garden of Luxor by Cyclobe and Golden by Simon Fisher Turner. It is a sweet, astonishing show.
When I moved to London in the late 1970s I was lucky enough to get to know Derek and visited him several times in his Butler’s Wharf warehouse. When he moved to a flat in Pheonix House on Charing Cross Road, just across the road from St Martin’s School of Art where I was studying, I would pop over for tea and, on one occasion, interviewed him about the making of The Tempest, The Wizard of Oz and the Blitz club among other things. Somewhere in a cardboard box I have the original transcript of this interview that took place just a week or so before the dreadful fire at Butler’s Wharf in August 1979. I will try to locate and post. I took a couple of photographs of Derek in his front room. I especially like this one of him standing in front of his starburst mirror. This fading photocopy is the only record of this I have left. Seems appropriate somehow.
Derek Jarman: Pandemonium, Indigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, Strand, London, WC2. Until 9 March.