Helen Lindon
Inaugural Artist in Residence,
Metropole Galleries 2007, Folkestone

My time as Artist in Residence was challenging, intense and rewarding; taking me out of my usual context and forcing me to critique my work, work methods and processes in an entirely new artistic, social, geographic and aesthetic environment. It allowed me to make work in a supportive and protected artistic context, which meant that I was able to develop and pursue new ideas to a depth and in a space of time that would not be possible otherwise. The freedom the residency gave me is a priceless gift. Freedom is rare and difficult to use wisely, and it took a while to find a way to make connections with my new life - to start with I was glad to have brought ongoing projects to do.

But after exploring my new surroundings, I became completely absorbed by Derek Jarman’s own artistic response to the environment. And as I immersed myself in his creative world through research, photography, painting and drawing, I not only made connections with the local extraordinary natural landscape, but made important, very personal connections with him and his art. Through his work I reassessed what it is to be an artist, how society’s strictures and expectations work to our detriment, and how brave one has to be to live a life that is not ‘unconsidered’ and that is meaningful and true to one’s own principles.

Jarman’s garden, like all good art, works on many levels. A pure plantsman would find it a gardening phenomenon; the plants are interesting, beautiful and grow in harsh conditions. Aesthetically it is most unusual - it is certainly a ‘gardener’s garden’. But found objects, the flotsam and jetsam that Jarman valued and placed in the garden with indigenous flora in his considered and symbolic way transformed it into art. The location of the garden near Dungeness power station seems to be at the edge of civilization, and is at the edge of the land. Although it is unfenced and open, it feels very personal - it has its own atmosphere and space within the vastness of its surroundings. The visitor knows there is something more than just horticulture going on. It is obvious that visitors to the garden feel something close to reverence – it makes us behave with respect as we walk and talk quietly. It seems like a place of pilgrimage - ironic, as religion is something Jarman battled with and parodied - maybe I hear a ghostly chuckle…

As making the garden became an artistic and human response to his devastating illness, he created something timeless and peaceful. But it also became, “ ‘la cuisine du sens,’ sweating away to create a richly interfused semantic broth.” (Roland Barthes). His use of it as a setting for the deeply emotional film, ‘The Garden’, supports this idea and intensifies the depth of meaning contained in it. Jarman talked about making ‘magic’ there, but as time passed the objects, plants and garden also absorbed the meaning and memories of his life lived in it. One senses the ghosts of relationships, joy and pain, love and anger as well as the beauty; it is transformed into something more profound. In his cork-lined room Proust wrote, ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’, creating from his life, the masterpiece about memory, perception and meaning. Bonnard made paintings of the claustrophobic life he lead with Marthe, intensifying the process of painting by ‘distillation’ through time and memory, transforming the work from prosaic to ‘visionary’ art. Jarman called the garden his Eden and his Gethsemane. It seems to be the interior of his life made exterior. I feel that the garden’s ‘outsider’ location, his rage at religion, his grief for his many friends lost through AIDS, his passionate love and love of life, and of course his own physical decline as the garden became more and more beautiful means that it manifests itself as his transubstantiation into art, thus allowing us the freedom to make our own connections with it as it grows.  And as Proust observed, ‘…every reader, is while he is reading, the reader of his own self’.

The series of pen and ink drawings and oil paintings I made about the garden, is my own very personal, emotional and artistic response to Jarman the man, and Jarman the artist and his extraordinary understanding of interior and exterior landscape. The work is semi-abstract and symbolic but also political – which is something I have not worked on before.

It is rare that an artist works in a gallery as I did. It was difficult at the start but in time became an important part of building a relationship with Folkestone. Because I was working in a public space, I felt that I should take very seriously the responsibility to communicate with visitors; from the art-trained ‘searching’ questioners who expected technical, intellectual or philosophical responses - to explaining complex ideas in a way that non art-trained people would understand and enjoy. This was stimulating for me as it clarified my own thoughts and refined my explanations. It immersed me in my own thought processes and fed back into the work I was developing. It was entirely different from discussing one’s work with other artists. It reinforced the ideas behind the work I do,and informed my art practice. My impression is also that the visitors found that talking to a working artist was interesting, stimulating, surprising and sometimes fun. I felt that it was important to encourage people to question some long held prejudices, and by taking every response seriously, I hoped to break down some of the natural diffidence and lack of confidence that some have about sharing their responses, trusting their senses and expressing their views on art.

It is also rare for artists to show paintings in such a stunning space as The Metropole Galleries – the natural light changed the paintings as it changed, and the grandeur of the gallery enhanced the work. Having the ‘retrospective’ exhibition gave me the opportunity to show different aspects of my work together, and to receive visitors’ thoughts and reactions to it. Meeting one’s every-day viewers is a rare opportunity for artists – ‘private views’, are naturally selective. All the reactions I received from visitors were interesting and some of them were very moving and enlightening.

Working in the space with the show also allowed me to assess previous work critically alongside more contemporary paintings, making connections that I’d not been completely aware of, fostering the development of new themes for the future. The workshop based on my work that Abi ran in the gallery for local ten-year-old children, was also an interesting experience. They were highly motivated and receptive children, who all produced wonderful work. It felt a very worthwhile use of my time and it was exciting for me to participate in the turning on of so many ‘light-bulbs’ to the properties of colour and form. The children apparently could not stop talking about it when they returned to school, which is an exciting reaction.  I feel that it is more and more important that artists and art institutions take on the responsibility to invite schoolchildren to share their stimulating and sometimes too ‘exclusive’ world. I was delighted to play a small part in the gallery’s relationship with local children. Working as an Associate Lecturer in the Byam Shaw/Central St Martins College of Art, I see how much benefit can be gained from students’ early involvement in art at school. Art can play a huge part in the personal development, growth and fulfilment of every child, academic or non-academic. It is a form of communication that should not be sidelined – a non-verbal language that can be much richer and more profound than it is given credit for. Art can help us all make sense of the world and making art is a profoundly human response to the world.

This residency has been a very positive experience for me. It was a rigorous artistic and intellectual challenge in a generous and supportive environment. As my own personal philosophy is in complete accord with that of ‘Creative Foundation’ and its aim to place education, culture and the arts at the centre of the community, I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with the organisation. My time in Folkestone will always remain a very precious artistic ‘oasis’ and I will be continuing work that originated in my time here. I plan to come back to Folkestone to make more work. I am excited to think that there are already artists who are benefiting, and that there will be more artists in the future, who will benefit from Creative Foundation’s visionary project.

In 2008 Creative Foundation launched the first Sculpture Triennial which was curated by Andrea Schlieker, to great critical acclaim.