Margaret Tait @ Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

A number of Margaret Tait's films are on show in Gallery of Modern Art, giving an overview of the Orcadian filmmaker's practice and legacy

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 08 Feb 2019
  • Margaret Tait, Portrait of Ga, 1952

The suite of films by Margaret Tait currently showing in the Gallery of Modern Art (to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the filmmaker’s birth) demonstrates the subtlety of her idiosyncratic, thoughtfully-paced and atmospheric works. Also showing are works by the winners of the Margaret Tait Award, which began in 2010.

As a film poet, Tait worked across poetry, art and filmmaking, and the films themselves are tightly punctuated. During a quick run-off that nears the end of Place of Work (1976), cuts feel like commas in a list, going between leaves moving on the ground, the dog, the cat. Rhymes are made between the person walking on the street and the bee crawling between failed flights, trapped behind a window.

The gaze of Tait's films goes between garden greenery and the wind passing through the leaves; the grey houses of Orkney, and the shadowy inside of her own house there; passers-by, animals and insects. Then there is footage of old Edinburgh, cranes and construction. At points, there's field recording, then pop music or a warbling pibroch.

‘Ultimately there's only movement, nothing else’ says a line of Tait's poetry split over the two pages of the book left open amongst the archival materials. The camera scans along, sometimes following a moving animal, or slides over a view to record the papers or buildings there. Fixed shots come like a photograph: the plants on a Roman windowsill.

Throughout the works there's an analytic eye that resists the expectation of a comforting homeliness as Tait films her bedroom or living room. No easy prettiness either in the garden. Each shot points at an object, or lists a grouping of things, charging the select imageries with communicative intention and a composed intrigue.

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until 5 May, free