Running Time: Artist Films in Scotland 1960 to Now

October 2009

Publication: The Times

Film has become, increasingly, the medium of choice for the current generation of artists in Scotland, as elsewhere  — but it has a longer history than one might suppose. This ambitious project, which runs over five weeks, presents the work of more than sixty artists with over one hundred films in a series of themed groupings.  Thus, under the  heading of ‘Form in Motion’ in week five (16-22 Nov) it’s possible to see Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘History of Nothing,’ made in 1963, alongside Steven Cairns’  ‘Until Young People Unite in the War Against Aides’ which was completed earlier this year.  The same grouping includes work by Tamara Krikorian, whose black and white ‘Vanitas’, made in 1977, is juxtaposed with Martin Boyce’s ‘This Place is Dreaming,’ shot in 2003.


Similar generational contrasts , as well as those of technique, style and content can also be found in each of the other categories, ‘Sound and Vision’ (week 4), ‘Drama and Suspense’ (week 3) and ‘Places in Time’ (week 2). In the last, Margaret Tait’s ‘Place of Work,’  ‘Painted 8some,’ ‘Colour poems’ and ‘Where I am is Here’ (all of which were made between 1964 and 1976) contrast markedly with the very recent films ‘Midwest’ and ‘University Library’ by Rosalind Nashashibi or ‘Pilgrimage from Scattered Points’ by Luke Fowler.


The first week’s programme (divided between the large screen and video monitors) presented on ‘Portraits in Action’ although, like all of the suggested themes here, the idea of a binding, unifying premise was somewhat stretched. Pernille Spence’s  ‘I look up…I look Down’ (which shows skydivers in action) uses the changing relationship between ground and sky as a metaphor for psychological disorientation, as well as presenting a visually fascinating spectacle.


Surrealism’s distorting relationship with the body (as well as its use of photography) is undoubtedly at the root of a number of the works including Smith/Stewart’s orally fixated ‘Gagging’ and ‘Mouth to Mouth’. Together, they present a discomfiting vision of intimacy, horror and sexuality. Similarly, Ashley Nieuwenhuizen’s ‘Goldfish’ and ‘Wearing the Fur’ evoke a  primeval horror. In the latter, an anonymous headless body consumes an amorphous animal-like entity, while in the first the artist presents an image of goldfish swimming in a human mouth; both human and fish appear to suffocate while the viewer struggles to rationalise the precise nature of their own repulsion.


Although easy to miss, located high in the vestibule cupola, Torsten Lauschmann’s site specific work takes as its starting point the idea of a kaleidoscope, and all the innocence such a image evokes. Although it does not presage the content of many of these, often challenging, films it does nevertheless indicate the level of talent and innovation which Scotland’s artist filmmakers have to offer.


* Correction: In a review of Kate Downie’s exhibition ‘The Coast Road Diaries’ (‘The Times’ p. 34, October 20) the reviewer erroneously referred to “the late Frances Walker”. Frances Walker (b. 1930) continues to live and work in Aberdeen.