Uncovering and celebrating the work of Margaret Tait
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Stirling
Unit of AssessmentCommunication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Sarah Neely's research has played the central role in bringing
under-represented and undiscovered work of Orcadian filmmaker and poet
Margaret Tait to public attention. Neely's research has brought a greatly
increased awareness of Tait's work, uncovering new material by Tait,
including poetry and other writings, audio recordings, and films
previously thought to be missing. Neely has (1) successfully championed
Tait's artistic and cultural significance, widely publicizing her work
nationally and internationally, directly through her role as curator,
involving the screening and presenting of her work, as well as
publication: and (2) substantially helped to develop holdings at the
Scottish Screen Archive, also of artists' moving image agency LUX; as well
as The Orkney Archive, The Pier Arts Centre (Orkney) and The Scottish
Margaret Tait's main body of work consists largely of short experimental
films and one feature, Blue Black Permanent (1993). Tait was a
truly independent filmmaker who established her own film company and
self-financed most of her productions. Her work stretches across an
impressive range of styles (eg hand-painted animations, film poetry
or observational portraits of her immediate surroundings). Part of the
explanation of the oversight of this major pioneer of UK experimental film
is associated with the challenging working methods presented by her films,
but it is also because of Tait's own reluctance to secure her work within
archival collections. She also produced various writings, including
poetry, the latter chiefly unpublished until Neely's engagement with her
The research for the project began in 2005, when Neely organized an event
on Tait at the Glasgow Film Theatre with The Drouth magazine and
Ian Goode (Glasgow University). Neely's research into Tait then developed
with the support of two research grants from the Carnegie Foundation:
Carnegie Small Research Grant (£2000, for research on Margaret Tait), June
2009 (a previous Small Research Grant of £2000 in 2006 began the
process).This enabled Neely to make initial visits to Orkney to examine
the extensive holdings of Tait's collection at the Orkney Archive. After
Neely joined the University of Stirling in 2007, this research was
developed further and in 2010, an AHRC Early Career Fellowship enabled
Neely to deepen her research on Tait (2010, £50,187, for the creation of a
book-length study of the filmmaker and an edited collection of Tait's
poetry and writings).
Although the bulk of Tait's short work was deposited with Scottish Screen
Archive after her death in 1999, Neely's project found a great number of
films to be in urgent need of attention. Several films that had been
identified as 'missing' following the initial restoration project of her
work (conducted by Peter Todd, Scottish Screen Archive and LUX) were
recovered as part of Neely's research. These include A Pleasant Place
(1969), Tait's only known narrative short, Palindrome, (1964), a
rare film starring Stella Cartwright, also known as The Muse of Rose
St and My Room (date unknown), a very early observational
portrait of Tait's, shot in her room on Via Ancona (for which her company,
Ancona Films, was named) where she lived while studying film in Rome. The
collection continues to grow as new materials are identified by friends
and family in Orkney.
Neely's project also investigated Tait's writings and poetry, some of
which had been self-published in the late 1950s, but also the vast
collection of unpublished poems in Tait's archive. The project ensured the
publication of a collection of Tait's poems, stories and other writings
(Carcanet 2012). A number of recordings of Tait reading her poems were
discovered, digitized and organized into a collection for a new database
of Tait's work on the Scottish Poetry Library website. The project has
also involved the preservation of additional papers and ephemera relating
to Tait's life and work.
References to the research
• `Margaret Tait: Poetry, Writings, Stories, edited and with
Introduction by Sarah Neely and foreword by Ali Smith (Manchester:
Carcanet, 2012), ISBN-10: 1847771599, ISBN-13: 978-1847771599
• Co-author with Alan Riach, `Demons in the Machine: cinema and modernism
in twentieth-century Scotland', in Jonny Murray, Fidelma Farley and Rod
Stoneman (eds.), Scottish
Cinema Now (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), pp. 1-19,
ISBN 13: 978-1-4438-0331-12028 ISBN: 1-4438-0331-6.
• `"Ploughing a lonely furrow": Margaret Tait and `professional'
filmmaking practices in 1950s Scotland', in Ian Craven (ed), Movies on
Home Ground: Explorations in Amateur Cinema (Newcastle: Cambridge
Scholars Press, 2009), pp. 301-326, ISBN (10): 1-4438-1344-3, ISBN (13):
• `Stalking the image: Margaret Tait and Intimate Filmmaking Practices',
Screen, 49/2, Summer 2008, pp. 216-221, ISSN 0036-9543.
• `Contemporary Scottish Cinema', in Neil Blain and David Hutchison
(eds.) The Media in Scotland (Edinburgh: EUP, 2008), pp. 151-165,
ISBN-10: 0748627995, ISBN-13: 978-0748627998.
Details of the impact
The impact of Neely's work on Tait has occurred within the arts world and
cultural life more broadly, and in education; also in policy making,
through investment in the preservation of Tait's work.
As a direct consequence of Neely's championing of Tait, her work is now
receiving the recognition it deserves. The establishment of a major annual
award, in Tait's name (with Glasgow Film Festival/Creative Scotland/LUX,
for which Neely is a jury member) in 2009 serves as evidence of the
growing profile of Tait's work. In 2013 Neely is delivering a guest
lecture on Tait at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Neely has also substantially helped to develop archive holdings at the
Scottish Screen Archive, The Orkney Archive, The Pier Arts Centre
(Stromness, Orkney) and The Scottish Poetry Library, also of artists'
moving image agency LUX.
In addition to prioritizing the preservation of Tait's work, Neely's
project has also been concerned with ensuring that Tait's work is seen.
Tait generally made films in 16mm, the format in which she intended them
to be exhibited. It has been a priority to show Tait's films in this
format wherever possible. This has been the case at a number of screenings
and events including two screenings in the US (Ragtag Cinema, Missouri and
The University of Iowa) and several festivals and screenings in the UK
(Edinburgh International Film Festival, Glasgow Film Festival, Orkney
Science Festival, Dunoon Film Festival, Whitechapel Gallery, The Big Sheep
Symposium — see a wider range of events, below).
However, it was also seen as necessary to make the material more widely
available through digital modes. Some of the newly recovered films are now
available on Scottish Screen Archive's website and a new DVD box set will
also be released (closely involving Neely, in collaboration with LUX).
This will include new films as well as films omitted from the original DVD
produced by LUX. It will also include the first DVD of Tait's feature
film, Blue Black Permanent. An accompanying booklet edited by
Neely will bring together archival material with interviews and essays
from filmmakers and academics engaged in Tait's work.
The preservation and circulation of her films, the publication of Tait's
poetry and writings, the establishment of an award in her name, have
ensured Tait's work is receiving the audience it deserved, and was long
overdue. Not only have the newly discovered and rediscovered films offered
further material for analysis to challenge earlier understandings of
Tait's work, but also, more widely, readings of Scottish film culture.
Likewise, Tait's work as a poet was little known before Neely's research,
thereby ensuring a broadening of the scope of studies of Scottish poetry.
Finally, the wide reach of this research outside the academic world has
also had particular relevance for the growing number of artists
researching and working with 16mm film. Tait is now cited by a number of
contemporary artists and filmmakers as an inspiration for their work.
Neely: curation and event organization (examples, 2008 — )
`Film/Poetry' event and 16mm screening (Reel Cinema Scheme) at the
Scottish Poetry Library, November 1, 2012.
Tait film screening and poetry reading, Scottish Poetry Library, 20
London book launch for Carcanet book on Margaret Tait, with readings from
Ali Smith and 16mm screenings from LUX at the London Review Bookshop,
Glasgow book launch for Carcanet book on Margaret Tait, CCA, with
readings from Allison Miller, hosted by Glasgow Women's library, 4 August
Edinburgh book launch for Carcanet book on Margaret Tait, Word Power
bookshop, with readings from Gerda Stevenson, Edinburgh, June 13, 2012.
Curator, `Margaret Tait's Films for Children', Glasgow Short Film
Festival, with talk by artist filmmaker,Peter Todd, 12 Feb, 2012, Centre
for Contemporary Art.
Curator, `Margaret Tait's Edinburgh Shorts', Previously...Scotland's
History Festival, 3 December 2011, Edinburgh Filmhouse.
Co-curator, `I Crave the Wave Beating: Margaret Tait — poetry, film and
science', Orkney International Science Festival, 3-4 September, with Morag
MacInnes, Howie Firth and Rose Pipes.
Curator, `Margaret Tait's Edinburgh Shorts', Edinburgh International Film
Festival, 26 June 2011, Edinburgh Film House, 12.45 pm and 8pm.
Co-curator (with Sarah Smith and Maeve Connolly), `Citing Cinema in
Artists' Films' special screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre in
association with Glasgow International, 17 April, 2010.
Co-organiser (with Sarah Smith and Maeve Connolly) `The Discursive Space
of Artists Films', special strand of the Association of Art Historians
conference, 15-17 April, 2010.
Co-delivered short course (with Sarah Smith) on the films of Margaret
Tait and Vivienne Dick at the GFT (in association with LUX), March-April,
Gothic Film Festival, Macrobert Cinema Stirling, October 2008, assistant
coordinator with Glennis Byron, Global Gothic Network.
Talk and 16 mm screening, Margaret Tait's Film Poems, Dunoon Film
Festival, 15 June 2013 Margaret Tait (screening and talk), Dunvegan Film
Club, Skye, 8 June 2013.
Key speaker for the George Mackay Brown Memorial lecture, Pier Arts
Centre, 12 April, 2013.
Margaret Tait's Splashing, talk for The Big Sheep Symposium,
organised by Oliver Mezger, Artist-in-Residence, Timespan, October 20,
Q&A with Gerda Stevenson for screening of Blue Black Permanent
at Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 2012.
Uncovering new material: Margaret Tait', Enter the Archive,
symposium for Glasgow Short Film Festival, 10 February 2012.
`If you really look': Margaret Tait and the ekphrastic in poetry and the
moving image' for study day on experimental film, Stills Gallery,
Edinburgh, 19 March 2010.
Introduction to special screening of work by Margaret Tait for the
announcement of the Margaret Tait award for experimental filmmakers,
Glasgow Film Theatre, 8 March 2010.
`Margaret Tait: Poet, Filmmaker, Beachcomber Artist' Lecture at the
National Gallery, Edinburgh, for exhibition: Running Time: Artists
Films in Scotland, 17 November 2009.
These activities have taken place overall in the presence of a very wide
range of cultural producers and gatekeepers; artists, including film and
literary practitioners; curatorial, museum and conservation professionals;
and members of the public.
Sources to corroborate the impact
i. LUX, the main archive and distributor of artists' films in the UK,
were instrumental in the retrospective of Tait's work in 2002 and are key
collaborators with Neely for the planned box set of Tait's work. LUX also
helped to organise a London book launch for the Tait book (with Ali
Smith), held at the London Review Bookshop in 2012,
ii. The Pier Arts Centre in Orkney is a key supporter of Tait's work and
Neely's work has helped to add a number of film prints to the Pier's
collection. The Pier have also supported a number of screening's of Tait's
work, including one for the annual George Mackay Brown Lecture, delivered
by Neely (on Tait) in 2012, http://www.gmbfellowship.org.uk/news
iii. Glasgow Women's Library have supported various activities, including
a launch for the Tait book published by Carcanet. Neely also advised GWL
on their film production, Margaret Tait, Film Poet (2012) http://womenslibrary.org.uk/2012/07/09/margaret-tait-poetry-and-film/
iv. Scottish Poetry Library invited Neely to organise a series of
screenings/events related to Tait and the film poem.They are also the host
for a new online database of recordings of Tait's poetry, developed by
v. The research on Tait has also proven of interest to a number of
contemporary artists who have organised various screenings and events
which have provided the opportunity to present Tait's work and the
research on Tait. See for instance, The Big Sheep Symposium (http://northings.com/2012/10/05/the-big-sheep-symposium-20-october-2012-helmsdale/
and Places of Work at Whitechapel Gallery
The Modern Edinburgh Film School,
`A Dialogue/Conversation', Mills College Art Museum, CA,
vi. Neely has presented Tait's work at a number of festivals including,
The Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Glasgow Film Festival, The
Orkney Science Festival, Previously...Scotland's History Festival, Dunoon