Sarah Neely on a new exhibition featuring work by the Scottish filmmaker and poet, Margaret Tait
I have been researching the work of the Orcadian filmmaker and poet Margaret Tait over a number of years. Tait’s work is truly unique and inspiring, so it is always a pleasure to be involved in sharing her work at public screenings and readings. This winter I travelled to California to do a few talks around a wonderful new exhibition at Mills College Art Museum in Oakland. The exhibition, titled The Shape of a Pocket, features Tait’s work alongside the work of Anne Colvin, a Scottish artist now based in San Francisco. Colvin’s practice is rather different from Tait’s, but their work responds to the others in exciting ways. Although there are many shared subjects and themes in their work (garden flowers, ritual processions, Orkney ports, etc.), Colvin’s work features large video installations, often culled from found Internet footage and projected on a loop. Tait’s work, on the other hand, largely consists of what she referred to as ‘film poems’ which, for The Shape of a Pocket, are fittingly housed in a small ‘cinema’ space at the back of the exhibition.
Although I had heard from Colvin about her plans in the months leading up to the exhibition, my first walk through the exhibition was full of wonderful surprises and left me pretty speechless. I enjoyed seeing Colvin’s new work and experiencing its resonances with Tait’s films, but also seeing the ephemera from Tait’s archive that Colvin incorporated into a ‘reading room’ dedicated to Tait’s life and work. A large photograph of Tait reading at the Richard Demarco Gallery in the 1970s dominates the space. There are extracts from Tait’s letters to the editor, notes for her films, and even a recipe for Chicken Pilau! The archive and Tait’s life and work are brought to life for visitors to the exhibition in a really special way (a way that isn’t always captured by traditional academic research and publications).
In addition to my talk on Tait’s work at Mills College, which was programmed as part of the exhibition, I travelled to Los Angeles with Anne Colvin and Stephanie Hanor, the curator of Mills College Art Museum, to host an evening of Tait’s films and poetry at The Poetic Research Bureau. It was a great venue in the heart of LA’s Chinatown, and the work received a good response. Hopefully the enthusiasm for her work will lead to others sharing her work at future events in the area.
If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area anytime soon, don’t miss seeing The Shape of a Pocket at Mills College. The exhibition runs until March 16th.