McQueen, deadpan, film still
McQueen, white elephant, installation view
STOP PRESS-STEVE McQUEEN TURNER PRIZE NOMINEE 1999-STOP PRESS
Steve McQueens photographs of the cloths and rugs used by Paris
street-cleaners to redirect excess water (barrage) invite morbid anthropomorphism.
Our inability to erase macabre stains from visual memory make these
innocuous objects appear like body-bags oozing dark liquid onto backstreets.
In the adjacent upstairs gallery of the ICA, five disorientating minutes
into the formalist coup of drumroll, we realize that its three, circular
films show a barrels-eye-view of a stroll down a Manhattan street.
McQueen here reinvents cinematic viewpoint and story-telling by installing
three rolling cameras in a rolling steel drum, one peering
from each end, the other from the drums waistline. The resulting
trinocular vision looks ahead, behind, above, below, to
left and right, freeing us from rectangular frames and one-way narratives
while turning pavements into walls and ceilings over which pedestrian
footsteps appear to dance. Meanwhile a cycle of close-up tarmac shots
repeatedly gives way to uppercut views of artist-against-sky followed
by the next road-bound nose-dive. All this is accompanied by noisy
traffic, rumbling steel and McQueens apologies to bemused Manhattanites.
But just as sodden carpets easily turn corpses through contemporary
vision so this drumroll announces renewed vigilance among all those
who need eyes side, top and back to beware of attack and abuse.
A much shorter film entitled Exodus shows two West Indian men stalked
by McQueens lens through a London market. Theres no fear
of losing the pair as they carry towering coconut palms which proudly
advertise their culture to the point of caricature and barely squeeze
onto the bus they eventually board. The film ends when one man waves
to camera from the bus window thereby warmly implicating both artist
and viewer in this urban fable.
A broken-glass-topped brick wall installed along the ICAs concourse
seems to resurrect the memory of the Thin Black Line exhibition
of 85 when the institute clumsily acknowledged burgeoning black
and Asian arts by cramming the work of 11 artists into this very corridor
while allocating the major downstairs space to a single white artist.
However, that major space now plays host to shocking-pink walls surrounding
a chrome roundabout (white elephant) whose multiple, reflective, revolving
facets evoke moving-image-contraptions which pre-date cinema itself.
The piece reminds us that, though now a billion dollar industry and
a magnet for heady theory, the movies began life as a series of playful
experiments and its this child-like fascination with the mediums
fundamentals which continues to fuel McQueens work.
The combination of the wall color and the title of the piece seem
to refer to the venue for the white-washed Stephen Laurence
murder enquirya huge pink-painted complex in Londons Elephant
Next door, the b+w deadpan is screened in respectful silence.
Its the artists remake of the classic Buster Keaton gag
in which a house-front falls fatally towards the hero only for him
to be blessed by an un-glazed window-frame passing clear over him.
Its both a kindly act of God rewarding the innocence of the
clown and a demonstration of the artists illusionistic prowess.
McQueen stares resolutely ahead, repeating the stunt numerous times
and filming it from all angles. Formalism again claims interpretation
as the camera-like box of the house floods with light welcomed in
by the falling wall. But McQueens brand of formalism arises,
not from unwillingness to proclaim upon specific issues but from a
heartfelt immersion in his chosen medium causing everything he touches
to speak of the mechanics and history of cinema itself. As a result,
discursive and didactic readings arise subtly, almost despite the
intentions of the artist, thereby examplingin this time of much
overtly issue-led worka robust fusion of form and content other
artists might be inspired to follow.