Steve McQueen, body of evidence, Tate Modern

Steve McQueen Static 2009 video still, Tate © Steve McQueen.
Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery

Drifting backwards n forwards through an abstract space – there are few walls in the Blavatnik building – and the intense cacophony of clashing film installations explode across each other, from the Tate Modern’s annexe, out to an LED beyond – with urgent address, writes Kirsty Allison.

Since the Ealing-schooled Steve McQueen had his last major public show at the ICA in 1999, the year he won the Turner Prize, his lens has moved to the  pulpit of cinema:  Hunger (2008), Shame (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013, and Widows (2018).

The curator informs us of their intent to create a “cruising environment” where the sounds of different film installations layer in an uproar against the racist, abusive control fictions of modern life.  it’s about information and how it’s transmitted, beneath the irrefutable eye of Charlotte Rampling, a Foucaultian detournement, herself a victim of image and play.

On arrival we are greeted from the shadows of border control by the great mythical monolith of the Statue of Liberty. A helicopter circles the broken neoclassicism, oversized the sense of the peripheries, and picket fences.

There’s an essence of McQueen’s body in the space. Flicking his nipple.  Lying on the bed of Reading Gaol aside Oscar Wilde.  There’s a persistence, and loyalty to truth, whether it’s the never ending story of Paul Robeson’s attack by the FBI, in End Credits, where the despicable behaviour of redaction and concealment, and the protection racquet of abuse is documented tirelessly, this is a show of war, video as evidence.

The most upbeat piece is Girls, Tricky (2001) (listen to our podcast with Tricky on iTunes, Spotify, Anchor or via here:, but where short films are often weakened by construct, McQueen works with plain facts, such as 7th Nov (2001), and the horror of his cousin lying down, describing the day he accidentally shot and killed his brother – this is simple, direct cinema, it is new wave World Press Photo. It is art at its finest, telling stories which resonate with compassion, without phony pretentious explanation.

Response to Once Upon A Time (2002)

The worship and the worshipped
Warship ‘copter colonies 
Uniforms to demarcate 
As I travel from my ethnic supermarket corner
To the deep marine world below 
Plastic Jesus 
African mohican
fisherman on Muslim shores
From sea secrets to tables of ice cream hedonism
There are no black picket fences
Upon the Great Wall
Response to Western Deep (2002)

Diving in the veins of man
K hole wormhole mine 
Latex finger stomach
The fear
Of confusion - dark passage
Cargo people

For all this noise
Red light
Thermometer sweat
Fitness test

Death is the reward

Camp of industry 
Earth Endoscopy
Kaleidoscope of helmets
Safety-first slave pits
Wind with no vibration
Fire without smoke
Taking water to terra 

Silence on arrival
Silence of doing 
Extract to exhume 
To chip away, drill, bass vibrate 
Raw core acceptance
Of the earth

Hospital eye
Relief, the dumb relief
To leave
Steve McQueen by Thierry Bal

Related events:

Steve McQueen with Paul Gilroy
Tate Modern, Starr Cinema
17 February 2020, 18.30–20.00. Tickets £12, £8 concessions
As Tate Modern presents the first major exhibition of Steve McQueen’s artwork in the UK for 20 years, this is a unique chance to hear the artist discuss his practice. McQueen will be joined in conversation by Professor Paul Gilroy from University College London. The conversation will be chaired by Clara Kim, The Daskalopoulos Senior Curator, International Art at Tate Modern. The evening will be introduced by Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern.
Steve McQueen: The Gallery to the Cinema
Tate Modern, McAuley Seminar Room
Every Monday 18.45–20.45, 24 February – 16 March 2020. Tickets £100, £70 concessions

A four-week course examining Steve McQueen’s gallery-based moving image work alongside his feature films, with presentations, discussion and screenings. Led by Richard Martin, Curator of Public Programmes at Tate, and featuring guest speakers.

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