Stalking the Image: Margaret Tait and Her Legacy

Part of Margaret Tait Commission

8 November 2018 — 5 May 2019

Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)
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Margaret Tait, 'Tailpiece', 1976. Courtesy of the Margaret Tait estate and LUX.

Opening Thursday 8 November, 5 – 8pm

Exhibition continues until 5 May 2019

I don’t have to know what it’s all about.That’s not what I’m trying to know.It’s the looking that matters, The being prepared to see what there is to see.

– From Seeing’s Believing and Believing’s Seeing’

Stalking the Image is a celebration of the life, work and legacy of the pioneering Orcadian filmmaker, painter and poet, Margaret Tait (1918 – 99). Tait is one of the most visionary and stridently independent filmmakers to have emerged from Scotland, yet her work has until recently remained relatively unknown and its significance undervalued.

Although Tait’s creativity found expression through a wide range of forms across art, film and poetry, she is best known as a filmmaker. She positioned herself resolutely outside of the commercial industry, instead developing a highly independent and unique approach that bears much more in common with the artistry of a poet than that of a commercial film director. Working primarily on 16mm film, she often described her philosophy and method by borrowing a phrase – stalking the image’ – from the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. This approach of locating the true nature of things through concentrated observation is closely tied to a technique that she described as breathing with the camera’.

This exhibition provides an opportunity to honour Tait’s achievements in her centenary year alongside work by nine contemporary artists and filmmakers, many of whom have been inspired by Tait. A survey of Tait’s experimental short films, made across 47 years and many places, features alongside a series of works commissioned as part of the Margaret Tait Award, Scotland’s most prestigious moving image award for artists. Artists include Torsten Lauschmann (2010 Margaret Tait Award recipient, 8 – 25 November 2018), Anne-Marie Copestake (2011 recipient, 26 November – 16 December 2018), Stephen Sutcliffe (2012 recipient, 17 December 2018 – 13 January 2019), Rachel Maclean (2013 recipient, 14 January – 3 February 2019), Charlotte Prodger (2014 recipient, June 2019 screening at Glasgow Film Theatre), Duncan Marquiss (2015 recipient, 4 – 24 February 2019), Kate Davis (2016 recipient, 25 February – 17 March 2019), Sarah Forrest (2017 recipient, 18 March – 7 April 2019) and Alberta Whittle (2018 recipient, 8 April – 5 May 2019 with a performance in the gallery 27 – 28 April).

The film installations are accompanied by a display of archival photographs, ephemera and other materials relating to Tait’s life, filmmaking process and writing.

Stalking the Image is presented in partnership with GoMA to coincide with Margaret Tait 100, a year-long nationwide programme celebrating the centenary of Margaret Tait’s birth. Margaret Tait 100 is led by the University of Stirling with LUX Scotland and Pier Arts Centre. The exhibition is curated by Nicole Yip (Director, LUX Scotland) and Will Cooper (Curator Contemporary Art, GoMA).

We are grateful to the artists, the estate of Margaret Tait, National Library of Scotland | Moving Image Archive, Orkney Library and Archive, Pier Arts Centre and Peter Todd for lending material for the exhibition. With special thanks to Sarah Neely.

Margaret Tait (1918 – 99)

Margaret Tait was born in Kirkwall, Orkney in 1918. After qualifying in medicine at Edinburgh University in 1941, she served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in India, Sri Lanka and the Malay Peninsula. It was during this time she developed an initial interest in photography and writing. Following her passion, she went to Rome in the early 1950s, at the height of the Italian Neorealist movement, to study filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Upon returning to Scotland, she financed her artistic pursuits by working as a physician, living mostly in transit between locum positions, her film studio in Edinburgh, a residence in Helmsdale and her family home in Orkney. In 1968 she returned to her native Orkney, where she lived and worked until her death in 1999.

During her extraordinary lifetime, Tait produced over 30 films, three books of poetry and two volumes of short stories. Of her 32 films, all but three were independently financed. With much tenacity and courage, she realised her life-long dream of producing Blue Black Permanent (1992) at the age of 74, becoming the first Scottish woman to direct a feature film.

Tait’s films range from colourful hand-painted animations to densely allusive film poems’ to intimate studies of people and places. Varied as they were, her films are united by a clarity of vision that has become a hallmark of her work: the concentrated focus of her camera combining an intensely personal approach with clear-eyed perspective.

Margaret Tait Award commissions

The Margaret Tait Award is Scotland’s annual moving image prize for artists. Inspired by the pioneering spirit of Margaret Tait, the award celebrates the wealth of talent emerging from Scotland, recognising experimental and innovative artists working with film and video.

The Margaret Tait Award is commissioned by LUX Scotland and delivered in partnership with Glasgow Film Festival with support from Screen Scotland. Established in 2010 by Glasgow Film, it is the only award of its kind in Scotland, offering a unique avenue of commissioning and production support for artists to produce ambitious new work.

Each year, the award is presented to a Scotland-based artist who has established a significant body of work over the past 5 to 12 years; is recognised by peers for their contribution to the field of artists’ moving image production; and can demonstrate the pivotal impact that the opportunity will have on the development of their practice. The recipient of the award is supported to produce a new film commission, which receives its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival the following year.

The exhibition features each of the film commissions produced by previous Margaret Tait Award recipients:

Torsten Lauschmann, At The Heart of Everything is a Row of Holes, 2011 8 November – 25 November

Anne-Marie Copestake, And Under That, 2012 26 November – 16 December

Stephen Sutcliffe, Outwork, 2013 17 December – 13 January

Rachel Maclean, A Whole New World, 2014 14 January – 3 February

Charlotte Prodger, The Stoneymollan Trail, 2015 March 2019 (date TBC), screening at Glasgow Film Theatre

Duncan Marquiss, Evolutionary Jerks and Gradualist Creeps, 2016 4 February – 24 February

Kate Davis, Charity, 2017 25 February – 17 March

Sarah Forrest, April, 2018 18 March – 7 April

Alberta Whittle, between a whisper and a cry, 2019 8 April – 5 May (with a performance in the gallery 27 – 28 April)

Part of Margaret Tait Commission

The Margaret Tait Commission is a LUX Scotland commission delivered in partnership with Glasgow Film, backed by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

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