Running Time – Artist Films in Scotland
Liz Shannon talks to the curator of a new exhibition of artist films about the mammoth task of marshalling the huge array of material by some of Scotland’s best-known artists
‘It’s a really inspiring time for film and video activity in Scotland,’ says Rosie Lesso, one of the curators of Running Time, a mammoth survey exhibition of artist films in Scotland at the National Galleries. ‘We’ve got some fantastic material.’
The show features films by international art stars such Douglas Gordon, works by influential yet less widely known names from the 1960s and 70s and contemporary up-and-comers. ‘A lot of the artists studied here or are based in Scotland and are part of the Scottish scene,’ says Lesso. ‘Some have connections to Scotland or have created films with strong links to Scottish history.’ This inclusive approach, along with the sheer quantity of interesting material discovered during months of archival research, has resulted in an exhibition that may well gain a reputation as a landmark show.
Over 100 single screen film and video works by 60 artists will be shown on the upper floor of the Dean Gallery over five weeks. Those already feeling overwhelmed and wondering how so much work can be accommodated in so little space, can breathe easy, as Lesso explains. ‘We discovered a huge array of material while we were researching and wanted to show the range of work, so we broke the programme up into five sections – there’s a different theme every week.’
Each theme is designed to draw parallels between different generations of artists and to highlight common interests. For instance, ‘Portraits in Action’ focuses on performative work; ‘Places in Time’ looks at artists’ manipulation of the documentary genre; the films in ‘Drama and Suspense’ are often tense and uncanny, subverting cinematic narrative conventions; ‘Sound and Vision’ notes experimental music’s influence on film; while the selection for ‘Form in Motion’ features seminal works from the 1970s that deal with film’s formal conventions. Repeat visits to the exhibition are definitely encouraged. Lesso says: ‘We hope that it has quite a film festival feel. Each room is being treated as a separate screening room, like a cinema. Some of the works are more normally seen in a cinema than in a gallery context, but these boundaries are more blurred than in the past.’
Many of Scotland’s film archives have come up with gold for the exhibition. ‘A lot of the video work has come from the Rewind Archive in Dundee,’ says Lesso. ‘We got some really great material there, including David Hall’s “TV Interruptions”. It’s seven very short films that were just dropped into Scottish TV’s normal programming, completely unannounced. You just wouldn’t get away with that now.’
Far from being oblivious to what’s gone before, Lesso asserts that many of the contemporary artists included in the show are aware of, and influenced by, the experimental work that’s preceded their own, such as that by Margaret Tait. With films by Luke Fowler, Katy Dove, Mark Neville, Henry Coombes, Film Festival prize winner Matt Hulse and a specially commissioned piece by Torsten Lauschmann, Running Time offers a unique chance to see just why film and video have become such staples of many contemporary artists’ repertoires, and to see works by the experimental pioneers that continue to exert an influence. Just remember to leave the popcorn at home.
Running Time – Artist Films in Scotland: 1960 to Now, The Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 17 Oct–22 Nov