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Indepth Arts News:

"Steve McQueen: Three Video Installations"
2004-03-19 until 2004-06-29
Davis Museum and Cultural Center
Wellesley, MA, USA

Three video installations by filmmaker and video installation artist Steve McQueen, open Thursday, March 18 at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA. A recipient of England’s prestigious Turner Prize (1999), awarded by the Tate in London, and of the major British award OBE - Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (2002), McQueen’s work is included in public and private collections worldwide. In the artist’s first one-person exhibition in New England, McQueen’s works’ Exodus (1992-97), the triptych Drumroll (1998) — for which he received the Turner Prize—and Prey (1999), will be on view

The British-born, Amsterdam-based McQueen (*1969) is one of the leading young international contemporary video installation artists and filmmakers. Trained in England (Goldsmiths College, London, 1990-93) and in the United States (Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, 1993-94) he has been widely exhibited in Europe, and in South America (ARC/Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France, 2003; Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil, 2001; Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, 1997), but less so in the United States where his work has been presented in one-person exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (2002) and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1998). McQueen’s earlier black-and-white silent films draw upon structural filmmaking of the 1960s as well as on performance art to create aesthetically and intellectually compelling works that are rich in cinematic tradition. Most recently in his color video projections, he has focused on historic events in Grenada (Caribs’ Leap, 2002), from where his family originates, and on an interdisciplinary approach between art and science when using existing images from Voyager (1977) and collaborating with scientists from NASA and SETI for Once Upon a Time (2003), his most recent site-specific work, commissioned by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. London’s Imperial War Museum commissioned McQueen to visit Iraq in 2003 to produce a work in response to the war.

McQueen's room-sized projected video installations immerse the viewer in a cinematic experience. His works, in which he often appears, are characterized by a visual minimalism and formal elements of the film such as framing, the point of view, camera movement, speed, sound and lighting. In an interview with Gerald Matt from March 7, 2001, Steve McQueen explained:

"In Drumroll, for example, the central idea was that three cameras would be rolling through New York City inside some oil drums. This was the best way for me to document a very specific urban situation. Everything was filmed. People in the street, I myself. Everything was perfect, I could do no wrong. I felt almost like a musician. All I had to do was to keep this oil drum roll almost like keeping a beat. The chaos that was recorded of people, cars, trucks, etc. was almost like improvisation. Everything that slipped into frame was permitted, it was impossible to make a ‘mistake’, everything is allowed."

Filmed in New York City, Drumroll (22 min., 4 sec., 1998; color-video projection with sound) beautifully combines the artist’s interest in performance art, improvisation, music, the tradition of film and the cinematic experience. Three cameras mounted inside of a barrel offer spinning views of New York City as the artist pushes the barrel along the streets and sidewalks of Manhattan. The viewer listens to the cacophony of the city interrupted occasionally by the voice of the artist.

Prey (6 min., 25 sec., 1999; 16 mm color film with sound, transferred to video), in which the artist also appears, starts with the image of a tape recorder turned on and lying in the grass. Slowly, it is lifted into the air by a balloon, until it almost disappears from view. All along, the viewer hears a recording of rhythmic tap dancing that suggests a coded message and evokes the feeling that the viewer is the prey.

Exodus (1min., 5 sec, 1992-97; Super 8 film transferred to DVD) playfully refers to the Old Testament and to Bob Marley’s eponymous reggae song. In the film, two elegantly dressed men walk along urban London’s Brick Lane carrying potted palms that appear to be sprouting from their heads. When they disappear in the crowd only the moving palms are visible. Finally, they take off the palms, laugh, wave goodbye to the camera, and catch a bus.

Davis Museum Curator of Contemporary Art Anja Chávez organized the exhibition.

Steve McQueen

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