Indepth Arts News: |
"Steve McQueen: Solo Exhibition"
2005-04-12 until 2005-06-12
On 12 April the Fondazione Prada inaugurated the first solo exhibition in Italy by British artist Steve McQueen (London, 1969). One of the best-known young contemporary artists, Steve McQueen began working in the early 1990s and soon achieved international recognition through his sophisticated use of cinematic language with direct reference to cinema verité, in particular to the avant-garde French director and documentary-maker Jean Rouch.
Inspired by the improvisation
techniques used in Italian Neo-Realism, Rouch broke with traditional
editing by abolishing post-production work and making evident the
potential within the ‘free’ use of the camera. He considered it was
possible to provide the viewer with direct experience of the perception
of reality, and taking this procedure as a starting point, McQueen
developed a narrative technique that inevitably led him away from
traditional cinema and to adopt a freer approach based on randomness and
uncertainty. In this context the artist adopted several techniques that
have become typical of his way of working: the use of a handheld camera,
the blurring of the boundaries between imagination and reality, and
between the space occupied by the viewer and that of the film, and,
above all, by the breaking up of the film’s continuity by altering the
narrative sequence. The viewer therefore has to provide his own meaning
and finds himself faced by a language that gives few clues but which is
based on complex dynamics in which key elements interact, such as the
clarity of the exposure, the pictorial density and the balance of the
In 1992 McQueen made his first film (Exodus) in which two characters are
filmed without their knowledge as they walk through the streets of
London carrying small coconut palms. In 1993 it was the turn of Bear, in
which two naked black men fight, embrace, look one another in the eye
and finally perform a sort of athletic pas de deux that resembles the
movements of a boxer. In Just Above My Head (1996), the entire screen is
filled by a white, cloudy sky on the edge of which the viewer makes out
the head of the artist as he bounces along. In Deadpan a year later
McQueen paid tribute to silent films by restaging one of Buster Keaton’s
most famous gags, and in Drumroll, that won the Turner Prize in 1999,
the sequence is the result of three cameras filming inside oil drums as
they are rolled along the streets of New York.
By concentrating on the intensity of images and their ability to evoke
the extraordinary dimension in ordinary events, McQueen arouses pathos
through non-orthodox narrative associations. Episodic in structure, his
procedure is not linear but it anchors our focus by following a
linguistic path in which images and memories are intertwined. The aim of
this device is to transform the general notion of what is real. By
creating jarring meanings, the artist attempts to provoke an emotional
short-circuit that will place the viewer in contact with the indefinite,
the inexplicable and, above all, with the most intimate and unknown part
of himself. “I want to put the public in a situation where everyone
becomes acutely sensitive to themselves, to their body and respiration”,
said McQueen (*); and again, “You have to get out of control to be in
control. That’s what improvisation is. It’s controlled chaos.” (**).
Whereas the time dimension of his films is conditioned by memory which,
when solicited, moves in different directions, the places where the
actions take place are also the result of fortuitousness and the ability
to improvise: ‘After many searches I made videos in the most varied
locations, from my bed to the deepest mine in the world, the “Western
Deep” in South Africa’.
Typified by visual reductivism, severe monumentality and distilled
elemental images, McQueen’s work uses surprise as a key element. His
artistic language continually changes syntax, passing from
black-and-white (Stage, 1966) to colour (Catch, 1997), from historical
references (Carib’s Leap, 2001) to a moment of strong intensity (Western
Deep, 2003), and from scenes of metropolitan life (Drumroll, 1998) to
more personal and involving material (7th November, 2001).
McQueen has experimented with many other forms of expression, including
sculpture (White Elephant, 1998) and photography (Barrage, 1998), which
have allowed him to widen his field of research.
Since studying at Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths’ College in
London and Tisch School of Arts in New York, McQueen has won many
awards, including the ICA Futures Award (London) in 1996, and the Turner
Prize (London) in 1999; the same year he was made the DAAD Artist in
He has had many solo exhibitions in museums around the world, the most
recent being at the Art Institute in Chicago (2002), the Musée d’Art
Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Tate Britain in London in 2003, and
the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College (USA, 2004).
Currently Steve McQueen lives and works in Amsterdam.
* Taken from “La pulsation de l’image”, par Charles-Arthur Boyer, in
Steve McQueen, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris 2003.
** Taken from “Interview de Steve McQueen par Hans Ulrich Obrist et
Angeline Scharf”, in Steve McQueen, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de
Paris, Paris 2003.