Charlotte Prodger, Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 51 minutes.

Charlotte Prodger, Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 51 minutes.

Charlotte Prodger

Charlotte Prodger, Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 51 minutes.

Charlotte Prodger’s Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, the sole work in her first Dublin show, is a dense, elliptical, fitfully autobiographical film essay. It is the Glasgow-based artist’s most substantial moving-image production to date, but throughout its fifty-one restless minutes, it remains a work in search of a finished form. Pieced together from a media-miscellany of HD camera clips, iPhone videos, and older footage found in Prodger’s personal archive of camcorder cassettes, this is at once a tightly packed montage of recorded memories and an insistently inchoate account of the artist’s recent past.

Prodger’s previous works have often had an edgy, subjective focus—incorporating fragments of intimate stories frequently associated with the fleeting encounters and obsessive affiliations of club culture—while also remaining suspicious of art’s conventions of expressive subjectivity. Diaristic voice-overs, authored by the artist, are merged with borrowed texts and homemade footage combined with appropriated scenes. YouTube clips and online comment streams have been valued resources. Sound tends to be separated from image, with each telling a different story. In a sternly sculptural, less overtly personal film installation such as Northern Dancer, 2014—currently part of the traveling British Art Show 8—Prodger’s compositional, or decompositional, priorities are apparent: On the screens of four boxy, outmoded monitors, the names of racehorses flash—each one a hybrid of the animal’s parents’ names—while on the sound track, Prodger tells of how Gertrude Stein removed all appearances of the word may from her 1932 manuscript Stanzas in Meditation in order to eradicate any possible allusion to her former lover May Bookstaver. A custom of linguistic construction is coupled with a situation of linguistic erasure. No revealing synthesis of the contributing elements results. In such ways, Prodger demonstrates her enduring allegiance to the critical principles of structural film, picking apart the medium into disconnected material and communicative components.

Stoneymollan Trail has a more unified presentation style: It is, unusually, a stand-alone, single-screen, black-box video projection. And yet its dislocating filmic method remains typical of Prodger’s directorial predilections. The trail of the title, a rural ramblers’ path near Loch Lomond, about twenty-five miles from Glasgow, gives us a notional, stabilizing sense of place at the edges of Prodger’s everyday world. Shots of mountainsides and snowy woodland walkways show vistas we might well appreciate along this scenic path. At times, Prodger brings us even closer to her personal domain, punctuating the film with several fixed-camera perspectives on different Glasgow areas where she has lived or worked (each framed or partially blocked by divisions between windowpanes). But these images are reminders of a life on the move rather than appeals to any fantasy of belonging. The film skips from street to street, from country to city, from picturesque landscapes to industrial sites, and from Scotland to faraway places such as the Italian Alps. Any stable sense of location is lost.

Moreover, as we jump between various generations of video formats, we see that some of Prodger’s archived recordings are in the process of degrading; the images themselves are unstable. Badly pixelated at the margins, their once-convincing view of reality is breaking apart. Similarly, when Prodger turns the camera on herself—in ways that can evoke a confessional, video-diary setup—she remains not quite visible. We catch only bits and pieces of her presence: her tattooed arms reflected in the screen of a television, for instance, or her darkened face and halo of red hair backlit by low-winter sunlight. As a narrator, too, the “real” Charlotte Prodger appears and disappears. She lists titles and key contents of her videotapes, cataloguing the filmic scrapbook of her life. But she also inhabits other lives, quoting lines written by Nancy Holt or words sung by Nina Simone or, in a remarkable pictureless passage, memories of casual gay sex recounted by science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany. In this steady drift from person to person and story to story, the subjective journey of Stoneymollan Trail becomes one of disconcerting shifts and persistent imaginative dispersals; it is demanding, confounding, and seductive all at once.

Declan Long