If queer avant-garde British filmmaker Derek Jarman had made a performance piece about his own life 20 years after his passing, it would likely look like force/collision’s multimedia performance installation Jarman (all this maddening beauty).
The piece, created by Washington, D.C. theater company force/collision and OBIE award winning playwright, Caridad Svich, uses Jarman’s life to explore the nature of beauty and art, and what lengths artists—as producers and consumers of art—will go to find it.
Founding Artistic Director John Moletress embodies many characters in Jarman, a fitting choice for a man who played many roles in his life time—chief among them filmmaker, artist, author, gardener, and gay rights activist.
Moletress cites Jarman’s guerilla style of creation as similar to the way force/collision approached the piece. The company’s mission to bring together artists of mixed disciplines was manifested clearly in this community-based process. Though Moletress performs solo on stage, the project involved about 40 actors and combines video installation, scripted text, music, and dance.
The production explores Jarman’s life, which was often a performance itself. No stranger to controversy, the artist’s work reflected a not-too-quiet obsession with violence, homoeroticism, and queer politics, often as it pertained to his own experience. Jarman publicly shared news of his HIV infection and battle with AIDS. Refusing to succumb to the societal impulse to erase the queer experience from collective consciousness, he willingly exposed his private life in his public work. Moletress explains, “He always came at [activism] from a very personal point of view; it was always his response, rather than trying to create some type of larger precedent.”
Following the works-in-progress performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Jarman will tour to various venues in both the US and the UK. The artistic team has been pushing the understanding that the show is still evolving; they continue to make discoveries in the process of production, particularly in terms of how film and live performance coexist.
Moletress explains that the production works as a type of collage, with the juxtaposing elements coming together to create a cohesive piece. Collaging has been an ongoing process of discovery for the artistic team. Each distinct part of Jarman—sound design, text, film—informs the audience’s experience in the space.
Jarman himself explored this notion of collage in his work, perhaps most memorably in The Last of England, in which he intertwined childhood footage shot by his father with his own films.
Playwright Svich describes Jarman as “one of the most important filmmakers of the late 20th century.” Neil Bartlett, a collaborator of Jarman’s, remembers his “appetite for radical beauty.” The film sequences in force/collision’s piece respond to Jarman’s work in a contemporary context. One particular moment juxtaposes a Renaissance painting with images of Big Freedia, “the New Orleans bounce diva,” twerking. Moletress cites this as exemplary of the underlying question in Jarman: “What is art, and how do we discern what it is? If it has value, how do we discern what that value is?”
Jarman (all this maddening beauty) is playing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center until April 27th. For more information, please visit http://force-collision.org/.