by Carolyn Roy
Does anyone remember ‘Blue’? Derek Jarman’s final film was 79 minutes of Yves Klein- blue saturated screen, an infinite space of autobiographical memories, musings, associations and meditations. It was released in 1993 only months before his death from AIDS. 2 years before I had danced in excruciatingly slow motion across a blue screen at the Lumiere cinema. A full hour to cross the space whilst Tilda Swinton and Derek Jarman swapped fragments of stories and Simon Fisher Turner et al dropped music and other sounds into the mix. In the foyer assorted drag queens, tattooists, masochists, artists, sadists, exhibitionists, provocateurs, and other beautiful vivid livers of life to the utmost, inhabited a kind of tableau vivant (or mediaeval fair). If I were to make a chronology of my life, this event would mark the beginning of the end of this way of living. 2 years later, this chaotic extravagance had been refined into the elegiac ‘Blue’. Jarman had joined the roll call of so many others dead. I moved out of Soho and this significant event doesn’t even make it onto my CV. Why?
‘Old age came quickly to our frosted generation’. This line from ‘the Garden’ has echoed through my life and re-echoed through the past few days of SPILL. It is nearly Remembrance Day. Listening to Radio 4 broadcasts of survivors of World War 1 recalling and retelling their experiences of that war, I am touched by the resonance with how I remember 80’s London. Though our catastrophe was minor, even minute, in comparison, I recognize the sense that it cannot be conveyed. People now might hear but cannot understand. Only others who lived in the heart of those times could begin to understand, and still they may keep their memories close. The loss, the waste, the despair, the beauty and intensity of youth. Would I gift these to my child? It was always dark. We lived on Amaretti and optimism. And is youth no longer lived like this?
I wonder. Listening to discussion of dress codes and choices, identity, life styles and actions that were the context of my own coming of age I meandered affectionately through remembrances of my own absurd and sometimes glorious aberrations, warm memories reinforced later by my 10 minutes dwelling in the familiarity of Dorothy Max Prior’s room. ‘In My Room’. I was shocked out of this cosy reminiscence by a young woman asking:
Why did you need to be individual?
Why did you need to forge your own identity, and why construct it through your dress?
Why did you need to draw attention to yourself all the time?
How could you be so fickle, unthinking, self indulgent, self obsessed, so lacking in a spiritual dimension or social conscience?
The gloss of remembered youth diminished, its vitality faded as I felt it excavated and scrutinized, not through understanding but through analysis, interpretation and judgment. It has slipped into art history or Cultural Studies. It has fallen into the generation gap.
We did it because we were living it. We liked it, and we could. It was not superficial. We were outsiders perhaps but we were seekers of truth, steeped in philosophy, poetry and the Story of O, as we sought to understand the world and own role in it. Paradoxically this honesty manifest itself through continual shapeshifting, disguise, deviance, uncertainty, rapid transformations and hedonistic practices. Is this not the role of youth? To be true to yourselves but also true in how you perform yourselves in the world? We had so little time; we had no time at all. Is youth no longer lived like this?
In the silence of the Pit, made almost sacred with candles I have come to hear some stories (Written in Sand), to hark back to that time, a dark time, I have come to hear her stories, not recognising that they will almost be mine, that is, almost ours. Lulled in the quiet of the Pit, present and unprepared.
Up rises a grief held back for many years. Getting on with being alive; that grief flavouring the undercurrent of all these years. That rage and hopelessness undercurrent to all these years passed since that time when my friends and acquaintances, yes friends and acquaintances not lovers, my circle was dying, my era, my context diminishing, skeletons sores and disintegration, names faded now on the spongy paper of an old address book. The rage and guilt that of course I would not die. The guilt that I dared not show how much I cared. How could I? The guilt that I couldn’t see or share your terror. How could we mine so deep, so young, so many times, relentlessly? The guilt that I could never be a true enough friend. This is a survivor’s guilt. My guilt of having left you in my past as I live on.
I’m still alive. Weeping for my own death weeping for my friend’s death weeping for their deaths weeping for friends I didn’t have, weeping for friends I won’t have, weeping, weeping, weeping for friendships that couldn’t wouldn’t will never ripen, blossom, flourish, mature. Weeping for the time that has passed since the Lucienne Boyer, the Jean Paul Gautier overcoat, your anger. I didn’t believe you could die. I didn’t believe we could die. I couldn’t believe you were dying. Again.
Not knowing what to say. What to say. What can you say. Share an apple. Wipe the surfaces.
Karen Finley survived. But she didn’t leave you behind. She has brought this past with her and offers it to us today. Karen Finley charming, Karen Finley uncompromising, Karen Finley joker, Karen Finley scraping raw the shallow crust that healed our pain, our guilt, our paralysis, our shame, our isolation, our desperation our unspent love, with her own.
A gift. A magnificent gift.