of Angels & Apocalypse

@Istituto Svizzero, Milano

Istituto Svizzero is pleased to present … of Angels and Apocalypse, Derek Jarman’s Complex, a performance by Costanza Candeloro with the participation of Axelle Stiefel aka The Operator.

The performance aims to create a digital reading device which brings together different female figures’ practices interested in the process of knowledge transmission. The protagonist of this cybernetic organism is Derek Jarman and his texts related to the end of his life, and to the shift in his artistic practice towards the symbolic care of a “nuclear garden”.

Derek Jarman (UK, 1942-94) is counted as one of the most renowned filmmakers, as well as artists, poets and activists and as the creator of one of the UK’s most famous gardens at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness (also called the ‘desert of England’). He acquired the plot of land and the cottage when he was first diagnosed with HIV in 1986. The entire garden is qualified by an enormous nuclear reactor that looms like a massive ocean liner in the background. Though very beautiful, the garden registers his pain and rage, as well as the joy he takes in planting. The garden, as all of his late production, addresses environmental degradation, and the abandonments and persecutions of gays and the poor. In a way, it mirrors Jarman’s life up to a certain point; it is a place of desire, of cultural richness.

Jarman had an aesthetic, erotic and intellectual fascination for gardens across diverse genres of media. By queering his garden, he repudiates the straight gardening aesthetic: local weeds flourished along with his herbs—found objects acted as sculptures and all these elements followed no hierarchy whatsoever. Over his bedroom, inscribed, John Donne’s poem The Sun Rising; the poem itself is a lover’s protest to the sun entering the lovers’ bedroom, which turns into a metaphysical boast: all that is valuable in the world is contained within the room, the sun, by warming them, warms the world. The contracted space of the lovers’ bedroom evokes the microcosmic space of the garden, as both are alternative spaces of desire with complex relations to the rest of the world. In both the bedroom and the garden, time and space work differently to the ‘outside’, and, in a way, they belong to another world as the garden of Eden. Love is not subject to season or to time, as Prospect Cottage’s garden. Time offers a defiant instance of pleasure and creative joy in the face of terminality. There was no cure for HIV and Jarman’s love for this garden gave him a purpose as his body deteriorated. In his words, it offered ‘a therapy and a pharmacopoeia’. In the last years of his life, while the garden continued to prosper, Jarman’s body slowly was ‘unbecoming’.

…of Angels and Apocalypse, Derek Jarman’s Complex is a project in which, through the re-enactment of Jarman’s garden, the digital reading device is a living organism of its own: time and space belong to an alternative dimension, perhaps to a romantic one. Through the female voice-over of Costanza Candeloro and Axelle Stiefel aka The Operator, the performance addresses, on the one hand, female or sexual minorities, and on the other the digital reading device as an object, container, form, pre-text, curiosity, mirror, in a world where the digital content is quickly digested and forgotten.
Acting as a temporal device, through the gaze of Costanza Candeloro and the grain of voice of Axelle Stiefel, gestures and words travel freely and have no hierarchy but merely prosper a romantic, if not utopic, transitory cure for knowledge transmission in today’s broken nature.
Romantic is also the intention behind it, in a space without boundaries as the digital one which is constantly re-shaping our existence, it reveals a very specific interiority.

Georgia Stellin