10 Years Ago Today: BLUE at The National Theatre London for World AIDS Day

Derek Jarman’s film BLUE projected onto the National Theatre, London, 2000

Today is a day that brings a special memory to mind – one of my first large-scale urban public projects, created for The National Theatre in London to create a public space for remembrance and reflection on World AIDS Day 2000. To mark World AIDS Day today, and to re-visit the 10th anniversary of the project briefly, I thought I’d share it here.

Blue was a film by Derek Jarman – his last film, made as the final stages of the disease was causing Jarman to lose his sight. The film consists of no image but a single deep blue colour, with an audio track revealing a rich and personal account of Jarman’s thoughts and writings during the advances of AIDS. I created the project to provide London with a temporary memorial and a space where people could gather on the evening of 1 December to pay tribute to those lost and affected by AIDS, and to experience one of the most moving films exploring the personal experiences of gradually succumbing to the virus.

The solid blue color of the film was projected onto the exterior of The National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre, and the audio was broadcast to wireless headsets for those gathered at the base of the projection, and on a FM frequency for those viewing from afar. It was important to me that the audio was experienced through individual headsets, allowing people to have a very intimate relationship with Jarman’s words and scenes, while at the same time being part of a much larger community attending the event. In a way, relating to the work in a similar fashion to how one experiences loss with the virus – individual experiences within a much larger community.

The projection seen from the far side of Waterloo Bridge

Having lost several friends to AIDS, the project remains one of the most personally meaningful projects I’ve done. It also taught me an important lesson about the impact a project can have – even if you don’t realise it in the moment. When the projection began, I surveyed the group of people standing at the base of the projection, pleased at the turnout, but then confided to a friend, “I was hoping more people would take part.” He said “look at the bridge”. I turned and looked at Waterloo Bridge, and saw hundreds of people lining the bridge, watching from afar, as the image above shows. It was one of the most powerful feelings I’ve ever had with a project.

The project has appeared in several books since then. Going through my archives today to remember the project and the day, I came across an interview I gave recently for another book which featured the project. It is as good a summary of what the project meant, and means to me, as I could write here:

Of all the projects, exhibitions and events I’ve done since then, and there have been many, my projection of Blue at The National Theatre remains the one that means the most to me. Most interestingly, it has become part of the collective consciousness of London over the years. I cannot count the number of times I have been at an opening, or a meeting, or discussing a new project when someone asks me about my previous work, and when I mention projecting Blue onto the National Theatre, I am met with an almost universal “that was you?!” And then tales follow of people walking along South Bank or crossing Waterloo Bridge [above] on the night and stopping to just watch the bold blue colour along the Thames, even without knowing formally of the event. In a way, this perhaps was the perfect triumph of Jarman’s desire, to think that several hundred, if not thousands, of people that night, in addition to the ones who intentionally took part, paused along the Thames to, as he would say, bathe in the blue: “Blue is the universal love in which man bathes … Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

The Listing for BLUE from The National Theatre’s Programme