Things seem to come in threes for Charlotte Prodger, whose new film, SaF05, is currently representing Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale. This was the case even before the Glasgow-based artist’s film became the final part of an accidental trilogy that began in 2015 with Stoneymollan Trail, followed a year later by BRIDGIT.
The first film had come about after Prodger won the Margaret Tait Award, and saw her set about making her first single channel film following more multi-faceted works using a mixture of forms. The second, even more personal work, was shot solely on Prodger’s mobile phone. BRIDGIT went on to win her the 2018 Turner Prize, although by the time she did so, Prodger was already in the thick of putting together SaF05.
Commissioned for Scotland + Venice by curator Linsey Young and Alexia Holt of Argyll-based artists residential centre, Cove Park, where Prodger first visited as a young artist, SaF05 is filmed using various formats, from her mobile phone to a drone. Using voice-over narration by Prodger herself, over the film’s thirty-nine minutes, SaF05 evolves into an anthropological dig into Prodger’s own psycho-sexual landscape as she explores the wilderness of self-imposed exile.
This becomes a rites of passage, catalogued with the forensic anonymity of what sound like rediscovered diary entries gathered up as evidence. Related with an understated calm that recalls the intimacy of some of the late Derek Jarman’s own self-portraits over impressionistic outdoor images, SaF05 melds the personal and political to create a visual poem that seems to traverse the globe.
“It’s very much about the evolution of identity,” says Young in Prodger’s absence. “Charlotte has talked about the stratification of self being like geological ruins that build up over time to build up yourself. She did this with the other films in the trilogy, but here goes even further. Charlotte’s voice is the only one heard, and that makes for something incredibly intimate.
“There’s a thing there about the moments in your life that are important, but in really subtle ways. The way that this is set against the images speaks volumes about class, ownership, land use and power. In that way, Charlotte is positioning herself inside a much bigger culture. It’s very much what I want Scotland to be - left-wing, open-minded, queer and international.”
Arriving into the world in the midst of the mess of Brexit and every narrow-minded by-product that comes with it (including the now withdrawn sponsorship of this year’s Turner Prize from Stagecoach, the travel firm owned by Brian Souter, who bankrolled a referendum opposing gay marriage), such a multi-faceted view of identity at every level is key to Prodger’s canon. For her, internationalism is vital, and, following the film’s Scottish dates, Dutch arts organisation, If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Revolution, will oversee an international tour.
“In terms of production, the film is incredibly ambitious,” says Young. “Charlotte travelled to the Highlands, Greece and Botswana, and worked with a film crew. The film also has a really sophisticated use of sound. Charlotte used to be a DJ, and is interested in noise. The sound at the beginning of the film is a big drone. Charlotte worked with a female bagpiper, and you can also hear the crickets in Botswana.”
For Young, who has worked with Prodger for several years, and is currently on sabbatical from her post as curator of British contemporary art at Tate to work with Cove Park on Scotland + Venice, “I think Charlotte is the best artist working in the UK. I think she shows a different side of Scotland. It’s so current. There’s still a resistance to people who don’t live in a hetero-normative way. Charlotte is interested in queer identity, and what that means in terms of political independence, and what that by turn means to be an independent group of people or nation, and how that plays out on an international stage.”
At the same time as Prodger shows in Venice, SaF05 will be screened at several venues in Scotland. The film’s Scottish premiere will be in Helensburgh.
“We felt it was important to try and be really democratic,” says Young. “so rather than just put the focus on Venice, charlotte thought it was really important to share around Scotland.”
Following Stoneymollan Trail and BRIDGIT, SaF05 feels like the end of something, as if the anxieties drawn from Prodger’s back pages have been purged or cast out into the wide-open spaces she travelled through.
“There are some quite heavy things being dealt with in terms of the relationships and experiences Charlotte shares in the film,” Young observes. “It looks like maybe those experiences have been worked through. It’s something warmer than purging. It’s a working through. It’s closure.”
SaF05 runs at La Biennale di Venezia as part of Scotland + Venice from May 11th-November 24th. It receives its UK premiere at The Tower Digital Arts Centre, Helensburgh, June 27th before touring to Glasgow Film Theatre, July 3rd; Campbeltown Picture House, July 25th; Aros Community Cultural Centre, Skye, August 22nd; An Lanntair, Isle of Lewis, September 27th; Mareel – Shetland Arts Centre, Shetland, October 24th; Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen, November 21st.
Scottish Art News, May 2019.