The Garden

Art Fund launches a £3.5m public appeal to save and preserve Derek Jarman’s iconic cottage

Few directors have influenced and altered the make-up of British cinema as Derek Jarman. Films such as Caravaggio, Jubilee and The Last of England continue to be some of the most radical and experimental moving images the country’s produced. The stage designer, gardener, diarist, artist and gay rights activist moved to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent, after being diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986. The cottage rapidly became a sanctuary and creative locus for fellow artists, a place where his many disciplines could calmly coalesce. It would be his home for the next eight years, until he passed away from AIDS-related complications.

His artistic legacy continues to permeate the Victorian fishing cottage, with poetry literally lining the walls, props from films dotted about, over 40 works of art by Jarman (and also by friends such as Maggi Hambling, John Maybury, Richard Hamilton and Gus Van Sant) contained within it, surrounded by a world-famous sculptural garden coaxed from the shingle. It remains a site of pilgrimage for many.   

This week, Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar announced the launch of Art Fund’s £3.5m public appeal to save and preserve the cottage – with major grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Linbury Trust, and private donations already taking the campaign halfway towards its ambitious target. “Prospect Cottage is a living, breathing work of art, filled with the creative impulse of Derek Jarman at every turn,” noted Deuchar. “It’s imperative we come together to save the Cottage, its contents and its extraordinary garden as a source of creative inspiration for everyone.”

Without the appeal, it runs the risk of being sold privately, its contents emptied and lost forever, due to the death of Jarman’s close companion Keith Collins, who was bequeathed the cottage. The campaign is supported by a number of artists including Tilda Swinton, Michael Craig-Martin, and Tate director Maria Balshaw, with Jeremy Deller, Howard Sooley and Wolfgang Tillmans, among many others, contributing limited edition works of art as rewards for public donations – ranging from £25 to £1,250. Actor Tilda Swinton, stated: “My excitement about this vision for Prospect Cottage lies in its projected future as an open, inclusive and encouraging machine for the inspiration and practical working lives of those who might come and share in its special qualities, qualities that, as a young artist, I was lucky enough to benefit from alongside Derek and so many of our friends and fellow travellers.” 

Beyond simply preserving the space, the success of the campaign would ensure residencies, guided tours and creative programmes run on site by Art Fund, Creative Folkestone and Tate.

To make a donation before the 31st March deadline, visit the crowdfunding platform Art Happens.

Suspiria x Damien Jalet

Thea Hawlin discusses supernatural dance with choreographer Damien Jalet for the recent remake of cult horror film Suspiria 

You wouldn’t guess it from his impressive CV, but Damien Jalet came relatively late to dance, “it always comes to one thing” he muses, “desire has to be stronger than fear”. From humble beginnings entertaining his grandmother in Belgium, Jalet would go on to first study theatre at Brussel’s National institute of Performing Arts before moving to New York to pursue modern dance. The vibrant contemporary scene became a springboard that saw him move from dancing to devising, working with everyone from L’Opera de Paris and Chunky Move, to Bjork and Marina Abramovic.

In 2013 Jalet devised a female trio dance called “Les Médusés” at the Louvre. In preparation for the piece he made his dancers watch Dario Argento’s 70s horror film Suspiria. It feels fated that when Luca Guadagnino was searching for a choreographer for his remake of the cult classic, it was this piece by Jalet that caught his eye. I sat down with the Belgian-French choreographer to discover how to transform movements from the mundane to the mystical.

Once you were on board with the project how did you begin? Did your ideas change and develop, or did you have a fixed concept from the start? 

I got inspired by sacred geometry; the first thing I designed when I started rehearsals was this composition on different pentagrams and pentagons the company is dancing on in “Volk”. The sculptural positions of “les medusees” were really a very concrete starting point for everyone. I wanted a very centered, very grounded physicality. Most of the movements come from the belly, the womb or the thoracic cage – ‘suspiria’ is of course connected to the lungs. After three weeks we had a rough sketch of all the different choreographic parts, going from very structured to wild and distorted. Once the shooting started we kept on rehearsing and developing material, it was very intense. 

Were there any specific choreographers or dancers you used as reference points?

David Kajganish, the scriptwriter, got inspired by pioneer avant garde female choreographers such as Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, Isadora Duncan, but I guess his biggest inspiration was Mary Wigman, who worked  before, during and  after  WW2 in Germany; the reputation  of her work got affected by the contact she had at one point with the third Reich even though she’s been a great influence on many important choreographers. But even though I placed choreographic quotes here and there, I really didn’t want to become stuck in the “historically right”, I wanted to stay close to my creative instincts and embody the ideas of the film. In a way I really tried to transmit the visceral energy of the original Suspiria in the film, something frenzied and primal. I also referred to some trance rituals I had witnessed in Indonesia. The first function and power of dance is often forgotten, people often think of dance as pretty, gracious and classical but I wanted to break that. 

Thom Yorke produced music especially for Suspiria. Did you use his work?

Unfortunately, its more Thom who had to work with my material, as he joined the process quite late. I think “Volk” has been extremely challenging for him as the whole dance is scored in a really complex rhythmic polyphony (each dancer has to learn the 12 page score in order to perform it right, it’s a nonstop counting trip). He confessed he had many many discouraging attempts, and it took him six months to finally figure out. The dancers are counting on three and perform on pentagons, time is connected to three and space to five, once he started playing with these two numbers, “Volk” as you hear in the film appeared all at once. I was really impressed by what he created actually. 

How long did it take to come to a final sequence?  How did you know when it was finished?

The original piece “les medusees” was made in 9 days, but “Volk” as you see in the film took nearly three times more; the geometry and entwined connections between the dancers in a narrow space was a bit of a mindf***k. When you perform a work live, it is indeed in constant evolution, a piece sometimes really blossoms over time. With cinema the scary thing is that you mark the work in time with indelible ink. And it’s there for a while! But I have to say that as a choreographer, who can be sometimes frustrated about the ephemeral nature of our art, there was something comforting in the idea: to have at least one work being immortalised.

You’ve said before dance is about ‘capturing something that is not conscious’– how did those ideas inform the development of the piece?

When I work on choreography I can have a very clear departure point, but I never know how it’s going to look at the end. Somehow it always has to be an investigation, an exploration, and since it’s an intuitive process I guess something of your unconscious gets translated in the process. It’s also not a work I do alone, what you end up seeing is the meeting point of the hard work of a lot of people, all specialised in different fields. So it’s a bit of a collective unconscious in a way. There was one beautiful moment early in the preparation of the choreography, when I was working with Dakota Johnson. Somehow, I asked her to move from her skeleton more than her muscles. There are so many things in our body we can’t control consciously; you’re heartbeat to start with. I guess muscles are directly connected to consciousness. You use your muscles to operate an action, a decision. When you move from the skeleton something interesting happens. Somehow that’s the only thing that will remain from your body, so it reminds you of your own mortality. Dakota started to move her shoulder blades and because she is so loose, it moved in a pretty extreme way, nearly like an animal. She was completely unaware she could do that, and was nearly disturbed when she was watching herself on video. I felt it became pretty much a physical metaphor of her own unconscious powers. For this film in particular, surreal motions and animalistic or primitive energies seem to really come to the fore. Part of what makes the dance so magical is its ability to transcend so much without the use of words. 

Remembering John Berger

Actor Tilda Swinton reflects on the enduring spirit of her friend, the art critic, novelist, painter and poet, John Berger

John Berger looks at paper with a hungry passion. He takes up his pencil, rubs the end of it – invoking a talisman? More likely cleaning off dust… and gets to work.

The magic analogy holds: He draws as if under a spell or, at least, a sort of fever – stroking out the lines, setting down the shape of what is up, willing something strenuous into being. Squinting and scowling, mashing his mouth, growling and grumbling and purring: a zoo of concentration and engagement, almost in argument, a set-to.

I have sat pinioned in the headlights of his basilisk eye on many occasions. It’s like being fried very gently in baby oil: the initial pinch of knowing there is nothing he will overlook, tenderly mitigated by the fact that exactly what you hope he might miss is exactly what he loves the most, what he’s looking – on the hunt – for.

This is how John Berger draws. How he drew. This is, also, how he writes and wrote. And how he lived and lives. Grinding the salt of experience between finger and thumb, pressing the seed down into the soil, merciful, merciless, tooth and nail. Workmanlike, almost bellicose, this most pacifist of thinkers takes on existence itself.

I realise now that this state of dedicated mental wrestling I describe above reminds me of nothing so much as a bull terrier I once saw demolishing a football in a park.

The most tender, most gentle of gentlemen. This most faithful, most human of humanists. His shoulders those of a prop forward, of a prize fighter, of a bull.

John saw freedom ahead, over the hill, and he made for it, scrambling and barrelling and burrowing towards it through the bogs and marshes and up the rocks of its foothills. He took – he takes – no quarter. There is no alternative but freedom in his sights. Human beings deserve better chips. He sees – he knows – the con. He understands the mechanisms of the trick: His outrage is palpable. Fucking cheats. Pure scorn and outrage.

Long live John! Long live freedom! Nothing to lose but our chains.

Photography Sandro Kopp

This is an extract from issue 22 of Port. To buy or subscribe, click here.

Port Issue 22

The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Port – featuring writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf and David Hallberg, the greatest male dancer of his generation – is out now

Photography Mamadi Doumbouya

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the foremost intellectual voices in the United States today. The author of Half of a Yellow SunPurple Hibiscus and Americanah – as well as of one of the most-viewed Ted talks ever, sampled by Beyoncé, no less – Adichie transcends the barriers between literature, art and music. For the cover story of Port issue 22, she met Catherine Lacey in Washington DC to discuss her extraordinary books, the complexity of recent gender movements and to give a hint at a next big project.

Photography Suzie Howell

Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to 6a – the most exciting architecture practice in London; discuss Netflix and race with the director of Mudbound, Dee Rees; and travel to rural Netherlands to meet the pioneering Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Also featured: The photographer Christopher Payne visits one of the largest flag factories in the US, and we uncover the secrets and beauty of space with astronaut Nicole Stott.

Photography Tereza Cervenova

In the fashion section, celebrated photographer Kalpesh Lathigra and Port‘s fashion director Dan May travel to Mumbai to shoot a 40-page story around the sprawling, seaside city; Scott Stephenson styles this season’s collections and Pari Dukovic shoots the greatest male dancer in the world, David Hallberg, wearing Saint Laurent.

Photography Kalpesh Lathigra

Commentary pieces come courtesy of Will Self, Lisa Halliday and Jesse Ball, as well as Samuel Beckett‘s seminal Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. Highlights from the Porter include Tilda Swinton remembering her friend John Berger; an interview with the British artist Gavin Turk; foraging with chef Nicholas Balfe; and ex-director of the Tate Modern, Vicente Todolí, on his passion for citrus fruits.

To buy Port issue 22, click here.