Vogue house. Prospect Cottage. The art of the garden according to Derek Jarman

Over the years, that unconventional garden in Kent, a stone’s throw from a nuclear power plant, has become an essential part of the myth that accompanies the figure and work of the English director Derek Jarman, who died in 1994. Jarman had also dedicated the film “The Garden” and his latest book “Derek Jarman’s Garden” (1990) to the garden and adjoining cottage. To tell the story of that place, an exhibition “Derek Jarman: My garden’s boundaries are the horizon” was scheduled to take place from April 24 to July 12 at the Garden Museum in London, currently suspended, like all of them.

Pending its opening, there is still the good news: the threat that the cottage (and the garden) would pass to private hands has been averted thanks to the over £ 3.5 million collected in crowfunding (8000 international donations, a record ) by the English organization Art Fund. The property will therefore be preserved, made open to the public and open to an event program. When all this was not even conceivable, like the world today, Casa Vogue visited the house and told its story in October 2004, with a text by Chris Sullivan and photos by Iain McKell. At the time the cottage was still owned by Keith Collins, Jarman’s companion and heir who passed away in 2018. (Paolo Lavezzari)

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

A Few Black Houses and a Bang of Objet Trouves.

“In all the model books there is at least one photo taken at Dungeness»Says photographer Iain McKell. “It is a naked and desolate place that shivers a bit, a kind of desert by the sea, but the art directors are crazy about it.” It is not for nothing that it is right here on top of the Kent Peninsula Derek Jarman, author of films like “Jubilee” and “Caravaggio”, had chosen to spend the last days of his life, investing the energy and love that still remained in the creation of a very particular garden, recently celebrated by Tate Gallery as part of the “Art Of The Garden” exhibition (3 / 6-30 / 8/04).

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

Dungeness first appeared in a Jarman opera in 1988. The film, “The Last of England”, is an allegory about the imbalances of Thatcherian England. In the same year the director discovered he was HIV positive and decided to devote himself completely to fight for gay rights and to creation of the garden of Prospect Cottage, a former Kent fisherman’s house.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

The Pebble embankment is certainly not the ideal ground for a classic gardenand in fact according to Jarman’s dream the plants – leathery, obstinate local species accustomed to defying the wind – grow on a carpet made of abandoned baits, old garden tools and pieces of rusty metal intermixed with shells, flint chips and stones vertical. The result is an archipelago of organic islets that seem to emerge directly from the promontory, with that sense of inevitability that only a condemned to death can transmit.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

This panorama from Wild West, this expanse of tombs in the desert bordered by heaps of abandoned wood appears in the film “The Garden”, shot by Jarman in 1990, in the double role of Earthly Paradise and Gethsemane’s garden, and you really cannot imagine the protagonist more convincing for what the director himself called “a parable about the cruel and vain perversion of innocence»; nor would one expect that a garden would be so comfortable in the anomalous context of Dungeness.
“If Kent is the Garden of England,” wrote the New York Times, “Dungeness is his service entrance.” Consider the two nuclear power plants that emerge disturbing from the horizon (to which there is a risk of adding a third and perhaps a fourth), rather than the service entrance it would be called the official landfill for the monsters of society.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

To the incongruity of the landscape and the “vain perversion of innocence”, we add the detail that Dungeness can only be reached with Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, the railway line with the smallest gauge in the world (38 centimeters).
Its bizarre, old-fashioned, caramelized miniature trains trudge through clouds of steam along the dazzling coast of Kent, while the locomotives, which seem to have come out of an old cartoon, signal their presence with a gentle whistle, before continuing towards the nuclear desolation of the interior.

Yup, there is a strange air, around here. It will be for almost all pitch black houses, which in the past protected the wood from the weather, or perhaps for that one home, that of Jarman, which has the audacity to be built entirely of rubber. It will be that just outside the country everything seems to belong to a past of remote prosperity: the “tan coppers”, the tubs that no longer serve to tan fishing nets and aprons; the rails, out of service, for the hauling of the fishermen’s boats from the dry to the sea when this did not skimp on the fish, as happens now; the hulls now unemployed, beached against the backdrop of nuclear power plants as in a Duchamp installation.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

Maybe this is it widespread surrealism to attract artists and eccentrics here who, in all probability, feel at home only in an environment where nothing is normal, everything is vaguely absurd and even the Sunday walker has something strange. Like a blank canvas that begs to be painted, Dungeness continues to be the favorite destination of sculptors and creatives who, like Jarman, following the example of the German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, they use scraps and debris to create works where abstraction coexists with realism, aesthetics go hand in hand with trash and art marries life.

In 1918 Schwitters left conventional pictorial techniques in favor of assembling with tickets, stamps, tobacco packages, newspapers, gear pieces, whatever happened to him by the hand. He christened his first work “Merzbau”(Merz construction), from the fragment of the word“ Kommerz ”which appeared in a newspaper clipping used in a collage. Since then, he extended the Merz definition to all his work, because everything was in line with the ethics of waste; the small fisherman’s house is now made with the “wrecks” collected on the Dutch beaches, while the “Merzbau” which occupied eight rooms of his Hanover apartment was aarchitecture-environment carefully constructed so as to seem “found” by chance.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

If even none of Schwitters’ “Merzbau” survived its creator, he consoles to know that his Dada spirit is still at work in Dungeness. An artist who fully embraced the Merz concept is Brian Yale. Just two houses away from Jarman’s home, Yale’s works (cataloged in the 1997 series “Dungeness: Landscapes On The Edge”) are scattered like peppercorns on the ground.

Wooden skeletons and mechanical parts surround a large central sundial with the perimeter bordered by twisted ropes. The heart of the sundial is populated by a small tribe of smooth stones on whose surface ruminations on the nature of time are inscribed: nothing more apt on a background like that of Dungeness, where it is natural to imagine the irreplaceable that weaves dark textures with the unmentionable. Not far from the desolation of the landscape, a mini metropolis of forgotten sandpipes and marine debris, and then a naive wooden frame on which ten empty green glass bottles are stuck, which melancholy fix the portentous bulk of the nuclear power plant.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

It is difficult to find another place in the world that lends itself with equal conviction to act as a backdrop for this type of show; no other location could appear more derelict than these recycled waste products. It is as if someone had cut a piece of the American frontier and stuck it, thoughtlessly, on the tip of Great Britain. Dungeness is a strange place full of strange people who invent strange things… and almost always place them in the backyard.

Prospect Cottage

© Iain McKell

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