A desolate windswept cottage has been transported to central London – minus the wind and desolation and now offers a rare chance to step inside Derek Jarman’s famously rural home.
It’s not his actual home, that’s still down in Dungeness, but the Garden Museum has transposed enough of the contents and built part of a replica to give a feel of the space that the artist and activist spent his last years surrounded by.
Of necessity, they’ve spread the exhibition out a bit more than originally planned, so some of the books and letters are in the main museum space, including the correspondence that inspired Beth Chatto’s famously arid gravel garden.
The replica of Prospect Cottage itself is behind a glass door that is not immediately obviously something you can go into — but pull the door open, and CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH – the shingles underfoot causing a noise most at odds with the usually hushed whispers of an art exhibition.
Inside, just three rooms – a video art room, a small exhibition and then The Hallowed Space, his main living room and desk. As with most house museums devoted to an individual, if you are a fan, this is your artistic mecca, otherwise, it’s a building with things in.
Fortunately, the artist was sufficiently good at non-film making art to make a visit here to see art a rewarding experience in itself.
You can also learn about the gardening childhood of the man, and learn that the famous Dungeness garden was not a new whim, but the culmination of a lifetime of nurturing nature in back gardens and later in balcony pots.
It’s the combination of the man being a political force at a time of AIDS and gay rights, and the sort of artist who pushed the boundaries of film making that make him notable, but it’s the rural retreat to a cottage next to a nuclear power plant that gives him a curious sort of afterlife that many artists lack.
All artists lived in homes, some are now museums, but they were family homes. Derek Jarman almost turned his back on his previous life by moving to Dungeness. Not that he was alone, there’s a lot of other cottages along the road, a local heritage railway, and a local pub – it’s rural, but not isolated.
Then he created a garden.
It fits an image of the artist not to live in a comfortable townhouse or quaint cottage that they should retreat to the wilderness, and then make art from it. That the artist was also dying of AIDS adds a poignancy to the decision.
The cottage has recently been saved for the nation as not an empty museum shell to the man, but to become a residence for other artists. A living memory to the man who turned a shack into an icon.
The exhibition: Derek Jarman: My garden’s boundaries are the horizon is open at the Garden Museum until 20th September. Entry to the museum is £10, and needs to be booked in advance.