Sarah Forrest: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence
Supplement Gallery, London
Review by Maggie Gray
‘Bits of film float round your head; they catch the light and stick to your shirt. A bit gets stuck in your eye’ You blink at the plug hole.’
Sarah Forrest has described her time on Orkney in outdoorsy terms: travelling there by boat, train, and taxi; trudging through the ever-present weather to caves and cliffs and mossy standing stones; heading out for drinks in Stromness with friends from the Pier Arts Centre . But in her first video response to six summer weeks on the islands, she brings her footage back inside and reflects at length on the bathroom mirror.
‘The slightest tug was all it took,’ she explains, narrating a story in which ‘you’ are her protagonist who - finding a tear in the mirror’s reflective film and pulling it off with fidgety determination - discovers a second mirror underneath. The artist recites this tale with democratic detail over the 9.20 minute video, and she has a way with words: I can recall the particulars of the imagined scene as clearly as any one of the actual video images that accompanied it on Supplement Gallery’s exhibition screen.
Sarah Forrest is the first recipient of the Margaret Tait Residency - a new initiative to support young film artists, funded by Creative Scotland in partnership with the Pier Arts Centre, LUX, and the Glasgow Film Festival (where she will release a second, longer film in 2013). Forrest is known for incorporating creative writing into visual media: earlier this year, she collaborated with Virginia Hutchison for Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, turning text into object and object into text in a Chinese whispers style interpretive exchange . Here, she knits together story and footage with simple subtlety. A rain-spattered puddle lingers on screen as you splash your face in the sink; an island-hopping plane revs along a runway as you work on taking off the mirror’s film and stops as you do, echoing the arc of your activity. Written down, these links become relatively obvious, but the verbal and visual affinities are mere suggestions on screen, and all the more effective for it.
The one really apparent motif throughout is the mirror, the double. The video is all reflections, frames and projections, multi-layered and disorientating. Forrest re-filmed her original footage as she played it back in her own flat, so that outdoor scenes lie transparently over reflected shots of the table on which they were edited. The artist herself is an elusive but definite presence on screen; coffee at the ready, laptop open, she is a hand at the mouse, a dim reflection in a blank monitor, standing up to leave.
Mirrors behind mirrors, film catching light… it is hard not to interpret Forrest’s film as a comment on the strangeness of the creative process. The island setting projects a slightly moody countenance over the work that both fits and creates the tone, but a ‘twist’ of sorts at the end of the story drags you away from the particulars of the place. As Forrest’s voiceover switches abruptly from an address to a command, the viewer is told to ‘drop your chin and open your eyes. Open them, and look at your reflection. It’s not looking back.’
That disquieting sense of familiar strangeness, of losing control over a reflection, is recognisable to anyone who’s set about creating something only to find it altered beyond their initial reckoning. Screening her work hundreds of miles south of its starting point, Forrest seems to test how hours of local footage might be transformed into something else, with reach and life outside the original frame.
‘There’s something behind you and you know exactly what it is. But let me assure you, you’ve never seen it before.’
 Sarah Forrest, ‘A Flickering Ephiphany: My Margaret Tait Residency,’ Glasgow Film Festival Blog, glasgowfilm.tictocdev.com/festival/gff_blog
 Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison, ‘In the Shadow of the Hand,’ Market Gallery, Glasgow, 20 April - 7 May 2012