Margaret Tait, Joanna Margaret Paul/ UK/New Zealand/ 1952-1982/ 90 mins
Part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019
Margaret Tait (1918-1999) was Scottish filmmaker, writer and artist who experimented in a variety of different mediums. The centenary of this artist is being celebrated with a series of screenings, exhibitions and events. Currently, the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow is showcasing a selection of Margaret Tait’s short films alongside the work of recipients of the annual Margaret Tait Award. The 2016/17 award winner was artist Kate Davis. She is present this evening to discuss the work of Margaret Tait alongside the films, art and poetry of New Zealand filmmaker Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003). There are parallels between Tait and Paul and academic Sarah Neely and curator Peter Todd are also present to contextualise the work of the two artists through a short film screening, presentation and a discussion.
The first film is Task by Joanna Margaret Paul. Here we see themes which occur throughout her work. A domestic setting, silence and repetition are present to focus the eye on a single task and reveal the agility and skilfulness that is hidden underneath the mundanity of ironing child’s clothing. Colour Poems by Margaret Tait presents a different approach. This is a loud and colourful film that uses animation and sound to present exciting visual poetry. Margaret Tait draws directly onto 35mm film to create scratchy and jagged images that express movement and vitality. The idea of the film-poem is also presented in Portrait of Ga. This is a character study of the filmmaker’s mother filmed on the island of Orkney. The vibrant and colourful landscape is presented alongside evocative language and this reveals an effervescent short film that is filled with care and warmth.
Body/House and Jillian Dressing from Joanna Margaret Paul both present themes of time and recurrence. Body/House draws comparisons between the image of a house alongside a focused and attentive observation of the female body. The silence of the film causes the viewer to pay close attention to the images, where the spectator becomes absorbed within the visuals. This absorption is underlined in the closing two films, Aerial by Margaret Tait and Thorndon by Joanna Margaret Paul. Place and objects present redolent images in both films and draw the screening to a close.
The presentations and discussions focus on the fact that both artists’ writing and visual art were very much overlooked. The idea that Margaret Tait and Joanna Margaret Paul would have been unaware of each other’s work is also discussed, despite the fact that they were both influenced by experimental and arthouse cinema being a link which ties them together. Both Margaret Tait and Joanna Margaret Paul used the term film-poem or cine-poem to describe their work and poetry is at the heart of their films. The context of the screening their work at the Glasgow Film Festival could have allowed a greater attention on the films themselves, with the film screening only lasting a short but enjoyable 42 minutes.