– François Olivier
Derek Jarman was an independent filmmaker in Britain during a period which stretched from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. His films express a decidedly queer sensibility and depict homoeroticism on screen during a period marked by the homophobia of Thatcherite politics. In a review of one of his films, the noted film critic, B. Ruby Rich, fondly describes Jarman as the “King of Queer” and explains that “as an artist and activist, Jarman has a life history that seems to encompass the very development of modern gay culture” (49). In 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive, and discussed his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent, near the nuclear power station. In 1994, he died of an AIDS-related illness in London, aged 52.
With the humble Prospect cottage as the central feature, Jarman filled his garden with drought-resistant native plants, rusted and weathered debris found around the shingle beach, and traditional English flora (which include an impressive number of rose variations). In his garden, flotsam and jetsam compliment the forms and shapes of the exquisite plant life, and vice versa. Michael Charlesworth describes Jarman’s found objects as “things that most people would see no beauty in, or would see their value exhausted. They bring a connotation of collage, of art brut or arte povera, of a garden made by an ‘Outsider’” (136).
Recently two ecocritics have written about Jarman, and the garden he created at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. In a recent anthology of essays on “Queer Ecologies,” Mortimer-Sandilands chooses Jarman alongside Zita Grover to demonstrate a queer ecological approach to environmental politics. Mortimer-Sandilands sees the relation between Jarman’s gardening, his sexual politics and the mourning of friends lost to AIDS as an example or a template for a radically alternative approach to environmental politics. Mortimer-Sandilands reworks Judith Butler’s theory of gender melancholia and she describes certain forms of ecotourism and present-day wildlife documentaries as “nature spectacles” that phantasmagorically preserve the ‘lost’ object of ‘Nature’ in the present to avert its complete destruction. For Mortimer this melancholic process hinders any real engagement with the environmental crisis, thus environmentalists “exist in … a condition of melancholia, a state of suspended mourning in which the object of loss is very real but psychically “ungrievable” within the confines of a society that cannot acknowledge nonhuman beings, natural environments, and ecological processes as appropriate objects for genuine grief (Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 332).