Derek Jarman’s “Chroma”

I fell in love with Derek Jarman’s “Chroma” two years ago. I came across it when I was searching for a book on black. Briony Fer argues that black, white and grey are colours, but they hold a complicated status as non-colours, ‘or alternatively, as marking absence of colour’.[1] As black absorbs all light, all colour, it presents ‘death of colour by colour’;[2] but in that sense – through its absorption – it becomes all colours. On reading Jarman’s autobiography, I realised his narrative of colour, of encroaching blindness (and thus darkness and blackness), was not only significant to my own research on memory, contemporary art and the female subject, but it would have a profound effect upon how I would respond to colour. How I would think and write about colour. Colour touches our most intimate thoughts. We think of a place, an object, of a past lover, we think of colour. We cannot disconnect our thoughts and memories from burnt umber, lemon yellow, rum caramel, candy cane and emerald delight. So what, then, is the colour of memory? Scientists tell us that when all the colours of the spectrum are blended together they make white. True light is white, not coloured. What we perceive and what is in fact the reality, are two opposing concepts. We look at white and may think of purity, but may also think of emptiness; a literal blank canvass onto which we project ideas and images from our consciousness. But even then a canvass has landscape created from a dimpling of the surface, or a crease or fold in the corner. White walls are walls undecorated, unadorned. Naked. Bare and exposed, they are easily dirtied or pockmarked by poking fingers and hand smudges. White walls seem unnatural, like the colour of life has been drained from them, like a body with no blood – ‘sterile … white, white and clean, clean, clean.’[3] The colours of my memory are sometimes vivid, but often definition is lost in a hazy fog, sometimes jagged strands appearing left and right, always moving and swirling, never static. 


[1] Briony Fer, ‘Eva Hesse and Colour’, October, 119, Winter 2007, p.22.

[2] Ibid, p.28.

[3] Carol Mavor, ‘Black and Blue: The Shadows of Camera Lucida’, Batchen, Geoffrey, ed, Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009, p. 222.

 

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