United Kingdom, 1969
Based on his knowledge of the Structural films of the sixties, Steve McQueen expands the formal and linguistic elements of cinema—point of view, framing, lighting, speed or sound and its impact or relationship to the spectator—in his work. McQueen is one of the few artists to have produced pieces for art spaces in addition to feature films (Hunger, 2008 and Shame, 2001). McQueen began working with film and video while still at university, first at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, then Goldsmiths’ College and Tisch School of the Arts (New York University). His work contains an element of physicality that is expressed on multiple levels. On the one hand, there is the constant presence of the body. Beginning with early works like Bear (1993), McQueen explored the limits and conditions the human body can subject itself to. This idea of physical resilience can be found in his performance pieces (Bear, 1993 or Deadpan, 1997), those verging on documentary filmmaking (Western Deep, 2002) as well as in his feature films (Hunger, 2008 and Shame, 2001). Another aspect linked to this notion of physicality relates to how his work is viewed. McQueen uses and exposes film in a way that emphasises its physical dimension. He amplifies its impact by the manner in which he presents his work within the space. He usually projects his work—often filmed on 16 mm or 35 mm and then transferred to video—across the entire wall of a room, covering it from floor to ceiling, from left to right, so that the spectator cannot avoid the image. In doing so, McQueen underscores the materiality of the installation and points out the possibilities for a phenomenological interaction between the image, the space and the spectator. He uses film and video to their full potential to introduce new ways of relating to the image, both from within the image and outside of it. Another aspect where physicality comes into play directly affects his use of the media. McQueen explores the material possibilities of the media in terms of lighting and speed. In Illuminer (2001), McQueen places the camera on top of a TV set in a hotel room and records himself lying on the bed watching television. The room is dark, and we can only see McQueen’s body illuminated by the light of the television screen, which is not visible to the spectator, who only hears the news being broadcast about the war in Afghanistan.