The writer Roger Caillois, whose collection of stones is housed at the Musée nationale d'histoire naturelle, Paris, called stones of all kinds l'orée du songe, the shore of dreaming. In her video Begin Again, 2006, Joan Jonas discusses the collection of heart- and dog-shaped stones she has gathered over the years from the shores of Cape Breton where she spends her summers, stones she often uses in her performances and installations. Derek Jarman built his famous garden in Dungeness on a shore covered with stones, which he selectively gathered and re-used in that garden as well as in the sculptures and paintings he made in his studio at Prospect Cottage. This shared activity points to these artists' profound interest in the natural world, which is the focus of this presentation. Rather than directly referencing the landscape, the sea, or the creatures that inhabit both, these artists approach the subject obliquely through allusions to nature's alchemy, to its magical and transformative properties.
In 2019 Joan Jonas presented the performance and installation Moving Off the Land as the inaugural exhibition at Ocean Space in Venice in collaboration with TBA21. The Ocean Drawings in this presentation were made during that performance. Following three years of research into the significance of the ocean, this performance celebrates the creatures below the sea, both honouring their otherness and acknowledging our reliance on the sea and everything held within it. Painted in ink using a long stick, Jonas's fish paintings are the result of a performative action of mark-making, a ritualistic expression of reverence for the beautiful creatures she discovered.
The presentation also includes drawings from the performance of Reanimation at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2014. This work was inspired by Halldór Laxness's 1968 novel Under the Glacier, in which a man investigates paranormal activity around a glacier. Jonas was intrigued by the passages recounting sublime images of the Icelandic landscape. The Reanimation (Bird Drawings), 2014 were made on a desk under a camera which simultaneously projected the process of their making onto a large screen in front of the audience. Jonas's hand moved with rhythmic gestures producing drawings of numerous birds, each with their own uncanny expression. In the same performance she made the chalk landscape drawings, her hand tracing projected images of the icy landscape, producing drawings that derived from the original image, but were generated through Jonas's ceremonious mark-making.
The paintings by Derek Jarman presented here were made during his time in Dungeness 1987 –1994, where he created his famous garden, defying the challenges of a dry and salty landscape that made it very difficult for plants to grow. The small, intensely coloured landscape paintings were made in the studio at Prospect Cottage in 1991/2 at a point when the garden was at its zenith. As with Jonas's landscape drawings, these tiny paintings do not directly depict the landscape, but rather reflect its colours and textures, celebrating the healing process he felt whilst watching the garden evolve. The black paintings, from a series also made at the cottage, include objects gathered from the beach or from his travels. Using gold leaf to transform raw objects, or smashing glass on the thick black surface, the making of these paintings became his own private ritual. The surfaces were often engraved with fragments of text, leaving coded references to his eventful and complex life. The presentation is includes an online screening of Jarman's super 8 film _My Very Beautiful Movie (Final Version) _1974, filmed at Fire Island beach on Long Island during a visit to New York (courtesy LUMA Foundation). The seductive images of the rolling sea and broken horizons offer an uncanny precursor to his later works made in Dungeness.
The two large paintings by Derek Jarman Acid Rain, 1992 and Oh Zone, 1992 are from a series that featured slogans scratched across the surface. These paintings were made in the final years of his life and reflected his ferocious anger at the politics of the time with regard to the demonisation of the queer community during the AIDS pandemic, while also registering his prophetic concern about the planet.
to whom it may concern
in the dead stones of a planet
no longer remembered as earth
may he decipher this opaque hieroglyph
perform an archaeology of soul
on these precious fragments
all that remains of our vanished days
here – at the sea's edge
Derek Jarman, Modern Nature, 13/02/1989