Inspired by the theoretical “queer death drive”, The Garden of Jarman began as a poem, illustrating a queer inversion, as in the Freudian term for homosexuality, of the garden of Eden. The poem explores the development of queer love in parallel with shame-based trauma and illness regarding emotional and physical intimacy, drawing from the artist’s repeated experiences. The poem also refers to three queer male artists who acted as a holy trinity of sorts, the progenitors of a lineage of twentieth century queer visual culture: Tom of Finland; Francis Bacon, and Derek Jarman. The masculinities constructed via oppressed sexual identity in their work is contextualised with my own experience navigating gender, sexuality, their constituents and mutual intersections in the queer community.
The queer individual, and by extension, community, over the twentieth century were required to construct their own spaces, their own subjectivities and shared realities in the face of an oppressive heteronormativity. This began in physical locations and various visual and lexical languages, codes, vernaculars and cues: underground clubs; the sauna; polari; the hankie code. In these spaces, one could perform one’s “true” self, reifying the identity and desire previously limited to one’s interiority. Increasingly, this was elevated to the digital, in the form of the internet and apps designed to facilitate meeting, even to the incremental detriment of physical spaces such as the gradual closure of gay bars, never mind the stripping of nightlife in the face of the COVID pandemic, this phenomenon having drawn parallels with queer history in the form of the AIDS crisis.
The medium of VR signals new and fertile ground for the facilitation of queer space yet to be penetrated. In the visuals accompanying the poem, I traverse nature adorned with a VR helmet. The visual is interspersed with visions of queer sexual encounter that would later that night in a bout of loneliness culminate in the anal transmission of syphilis, known in medical history as “the great pretender”. Under an Evangelical upbringing, one was taught of the subconscious, implicit motivations of self-destruction in homosexuality, that queer relationships were doomed to failure, an idea that would manifest as a self-fulfilling prophecy in one’s own pursuit of intimacy, specifically the spiritual death in homosexuals referred to in the Book of Romans: “Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”