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Sweet Garden of Vanished Pleasures: Derek Jarman at Dungeness
‘Sweet Garden of Vanished Pleasures: Derek Jarman at Dungeness’ is a book chapter published in Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner and Rolf Hughes, eds, Architecture and Authorship - Studies in Disciplinary Remediation (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007) pp. 82-89. A recurring theme in architectural discourse states that the home is the origin and archetype of architecture, the manifestation of its most important attributes. Defined by its separation from the external world, the home is assumed to be the most secure and stable of environments. This apparent stability may provide gratification but it can also, simultaneously, create anxiety because the home can never be safe enough and is not always what it seems. Unease generated within the home can be as disturbing as any external threat. Derek Jarman moved to Dungeness because a home there would be more vulnerable and thus more precious. He bought Prospect Cottage in spring 1986,when an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor cast a radioactive cloud across Europe, leading the UK government to publish The Tolerability of Risk from Nuclear Power Stations in the following year. Prospect Cottage is not simply a primitive hut or rural retreat because the nuclear power station is ever-present. Edmund Burke recognised natural weather as sublime, while J.M.W. Turner acknowledged the sublime potential of the hybridised weather of nature and industry, which he allowed to enter his studio. Dungeness’s radioactive and electromagnetic weather is impervious to building thresholds. Reaffirming the romantic concern for immersive environments, Jarman chose to live next to a nuclear reactor, experiencing the sublime at home. At Dungeness, it is glaringly evident that the various weathers—natural, industrial, electromagnetic and radioactive among others—intermingle as one. In December 1986 Jarman was identified as a carrier of the AIDS virus, accentuating his anger against society and increasing his sense of mortality. The garden at Prospect Cottage marked his life from diagnosis to death. Like General Dormer at Rousham, Jarman’s garden preoccupied his final years, fulfilling the temporal awareness that pervades the picturesque. So dependent on the weather and the seasons, the gardener knows that renewal and decay are necessary to one another. At Dungeness, due to the extreme weather, a building must be tended like a garden. As the home-owner identifies with the home, mental unease and bodily disease—real or imagined—are easily projected onto building fabric. Describing Prospect Cottage as ‘more beautiful the older it becomes’ Jarman saw himself in his house and garden, vulnerable to the weather, subject to the seasons. Since the Italian Renaissance, it is often assumed that a significant building is the creation of a single architect—who conceives at a remove from construction—because artistic, intellectual labour is associated with the individual. But Dungeness reveals a condition that is widespread: there are always a number of architectural authors at work. At Prospect Cottage and its garden, authorship is multiplied and juxtaposed not dissolved. Multiplied because, rather than a sole author, a number of authors are identified, such as the designer, builder, gardener, visitor, site and weather. Juxtaposed because—sometimes competing, sometimes affirming—each author may inform or deny the other, as in a feisty dialogue of individual voices and unexpected conclusions. As natural and man-made forces affect each other on a global and a local scale, agents as well as authors are at work. An author is an initiating force while an agent responds, translates and transforms. As an author may also be an agent, the result is a complex interweaving of authorship and agency in which architecture and weather are connected rather than opposed and the creation of architecture is shared and temporal.
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