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"Steve McQueen: Solo Exhibition"
2005-04-12 until 2005-06-12
Fondazione Prada
Milan, , IT Italy

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 composition.

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 Residence (Berlin). 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.


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