Margaret Tait Residency Award

Named after the pioneering Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), this residency gives an emerging film artist the opportunity to develop work and ideas at the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney and its Tait archive.


They said it’s easy to get there – just a short flight from Edinburgh, but instead I chose ten hours, two trains, a boat ride and a taxi. And I was determined to see it all so I braced myself and stood outside – wool jacket, scarf, hat, gloves – on the deck of the ferry until I couldn’t feel my fingers…at this point I gave up and watched through the lounge-bar window with my first pint of Orcadian ale.

It’s now six weeks on and with only one coatless day to speak of I can say with absolute certainty that sandals were optimistic and an umbrella an impossibility (I tried) but that Gortex is the work of a genius.

I arrived in Orkney with a clear and considered idea of the work I wanted to make but with no idea how to go about making it. The basic premise for the work is that I am searching for an object, a mythical one that I will never find, and that this simple act of ‘looking for’ would provide a framework for a ‘looking at’. My approach, I said, would be essentially responsive: open ended: letting my real life experience of the island and the residency shape the final work. Although I like working this way, I do sometimes wonder if my life would be easier if I was a better planner. But brushing these doubts aside I set off, armed with a video camera, a bicycle and an absent itinerary. I explored the island bit by bit; I clambered into tombs, tripped over Neolithic rocks, stood about with standing stones, became an avid bird watcher, developed a fear of cattle, took the worlds shortest scheduled flight (if you ever visit Orkney I recommend this – one and a half minutes, just up and then down and you get a certificate) and then on Friday nights I went to the pub with everyone from the Pier Arts Centre.

The six weeks have just flown by – or at least this what I tell people when they ask but it’s actually not true. Time has a habit of stretching here – the days are long, perhaps because it never really gets dark. I’ve found my own pace has been different – not slower or faster but somehow less jumpy, less interrupted and so the time I have had to experiment with my work, explore, think, write and read has allowed me to both get lost in the process of making the work and have time to process (to some extent) what happened when I was lost.

With this in mind I think I had an epiphany the other day, but I’m not entirely sure – a flickering epiphany. But there’s always a moment when I’m making work where the reality of the situation I have put myself into begins to blur or topple into the fiction that I’ve created and things begin to take shape in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. This happened the other day, but whether it was a moment of sanity or clarity…only time will tell…but I started filming a lot in the cottage that I’ve been living in – filming the footage I’ve been collecting around Orkney as it plays on the computer, the story now taking place inside another story.

And so tomorrow morning I leave for Glasgow – bike, binoculars, library books returned, goodbyes said, beer bottles recycled and my computer is back in its box and I’m ready to go…sort of, sort of not.

Written by Sarah Forrest, Artist in Residence.

Below – Sarah Forrest next to a portrait of Margaret Tait and her husband