This is an important exhibition. Surveying a recent history of artists’ films in Scotland since the 1960s, Running Time presents more than 100 single-screen film and video works. A testament to both the strength of time-based art as an artistic tool, and of the nation’s recent artistic outputs, the benefits and influence of this will be far reaching.
The exhibition is split into five thematic programmes. ‘Portraits in Action’ explores an ongoing concern for performative films. Clear examples of the ways in which film has been used to explore the use of the artist’s body come from established artists Smith/Stewart. ‘Mouth to Mouth’ (1995) and ‘Dead Red’ (1994) both feature the pair exploring their usual concerns of sex and death, with films that figure the artists enacting unusual bodily experiments.
Similarly, recent graduate Ashley Nieuwenhuizen films herself performing animal-like acts in ‘Wearing the Fur’ (2008), while in ‘Goldfish’ (2009), we see the artist turn her mouth into a fish bowl. Jason Dee’s ‘Running Time’ (2007) and Mark Neville’s ‘The Jump Films’ (1996) exemplify the manner by which filmic techniques such as slow motion have enabled artists to manipulate the ways in which their performances are received.
A further strand of interest is the use of film by these artists to parody, explore or critique the roles played by artists. American performance artist Paul McCarthy’s irreverent film ‘Painter’ (1995) is currently being screened alongside ‘Running Time’. Satirising the image of the painter as a solitary genius, McCarthy’s work is in keeping with the comic explorations conducted by Beagles and Ramsay in their film ‘Two Fine Examples of British Dentistry’ (2009). Tragicomic works also come from Alan Currall and David Sherry, while the inclusion of Phil Collins’ ‘He Who Laughs Last Laughs Longest’ (2006) confirms that humour is a key trait.
The works selected are strong and well presented, they offer the opportunity for concentrated considerations of the medium, and the exhibition presents an intriguing array of established, mid-career and emergent artists. The catch? By its very nature, film saturates, and viewings of this scale don’t make for light work. While at points hard to consume, at no point does it overwhelm, and cleverly, one is able to appreciate its diverse parts as equally as its significant whole.
Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 22 Nov