At the Foot of the Stone is the first of what promises to be a bi-monthly series of screenings of short art films and visual arts pieces presented by Lux Scotland at Eden Court in Inverness. (Lux Scotland is a visual arts agency focusing on the archiving, development and support of visual and moving image art in Scotland. They’re currently attempting to engage with the subject outside of the usual centres in the Central Belt.) Forthcoming screenings will have different curators and – while I enjoyed Lux Scotland director Nicole Yip’s talk about their work and the selections she’d made – I’m looking forward to seeing how different a perspective we get from screenings curated by artists and curators living and working in the Highlands.
Almost all the films in this collection seemed caught between styles and genres, and more importantly from my perspective, between being purely abstract or being tied to a narrative. (For me, Midgie Noise from Video Artefacts worked best – it was the shortest and the film I could most have wished for a longer running time – because it was a purely abstract work, not trying to be anything else. It could therefore be enjoyed for what it was aesthetically, a brief but beautiful and mesmerising moment.) With the longer films – BRIDGIT and to a lesser extent April whose last gorgeous couple of minutes caused me to forgive instantly any confusion I’d suffered before – it took a while to establish whether, and how, the images and the voiceover related to each other. Did they exist in harmony with or in contradiction to, each other? Was the relationship purely abstract or was there some deeper symbolic or metaphorical meaning that I was missing. Patterns and rhythms certainly emerged but mostly they worked better when I stopped trying to assign meaning and narrative and just let them flow over me.
Other than April and Plum the films didn’t seem to resolve at the end. There was no narrative conclusion, leaving me somewhat bereft, struggling to assign meaning and message to the works. Was that the intent? Is that fundamentally the point of the art film, to leave you to draw your own conclusions rather than lead you to any one answer or message? I found this particularly frustrating with Sorry not Sorry as the film which seemed to have the most interesting things to say of the collection, but left me feeling that it had an insight that was just about to emerge, but the film ended before it could break the surface.
The films themselves are bound together by the thread of the artists all having been awarded The Margaret Tait Award – and it is perhaps her role as a writer and poet, rather than her pioneering film-work that best sheds light on all of these films. Her concept of visual art as essentially a visual, moving-image poem is particularly helpful – to me at least – in understanding these films. They owe much less to short stories, and the narrative quirks and charms of those, and rather more to poetry. They are experiments in form and expression, and while there may well be an overarching narrative, that’s not necessarily the point of the exercise. Instead they explore and manipulate their own central ideas, turning them around to look at them from different perspectives, tearing apart or playing with them, as the artist sees fit.