Void Gallery is gearin up to present The Last of England, an exhibition that explores the work of one of Britain’s most iconic filmmakers, painter, writer, gardener and political activist Derek Jarman.
The exhibition will run from 16 November – 18 January with a preview taking place on Friday 15 November, 6.30-8.30pm.
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. The film 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.
In the Shadow of the Sun (1981) will also be exhibited, reflecting his earlier works that are more biographical; 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.