press release

On Tuesday 12 April 2005 the Fondazione Prada will inaugurate the first solo exhibition in Italy by British artist Steve McQueen (London, 1969).

Steve McQueen began working in the early 1990s and quickly established an international reputation for his sophisticated use of cinematographic language in which he makes direct reference to the cinéma vérité of the 1960s and other artistic movements of the time. Drawing on improvisation techniques developed by the avant-garde, McQueen built a film narrative that distanced him from traditional cinema and led him to adopt a freer approach in which fortuitousness and uncertainty are typical features. In this sense the artist has embraced certain techniques that have become emblematic of his work: the use of a handheld camera during shooting, blurring the boundaries between imagination and reality as well as between the space occupied by the observer and that of the film, but above all with the break up of the story’s continuity by altering the narrative sequence into discontinuous narrative blocks.

To mark his first solo exhibition in Italy organised in Milan by the Fondazione Prada, McQueen has arranged the display area in a succession of rooms that create an emotional dynamism. They alternate moments of silent intensity with others suffused by an enchanted atmosphere or an alienating desperation.

The crucial fulcrum of the exhibition is a large installation called Pursuit (2005) designed specially for the occasion. It is a combination of architecture and a video installation in which the walls are covered by reflective material and the moving images fluctuate in the void in a series of infinite reflections. Installed inside the room with the mirrors, the video becomes a part of the space and is transformed into a visual and aural kaleidoscope.

Making use of the intensity of images and their capacity to conjure the extraordinary out of the ordinary, McQueen arouses pathos through the use of unorthodox narrative associations. Episodic in structure, the progress of the film is not linear but magnetises our gaze with an interplay of images and memories that aim to alter the notion of reality: ‘I want to put the public in a situation where everyone becomes acutely sensitive to themselves, to their body and respiration…’, said McQueen (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).

In addition to the new work Pursuit the exhibition also presents a series of works that differ in technique and content. The first room houses Caribs’ Leap (2002) and New Year’s Day 2002, After Evening Dip, Mees 8 (2005). Caribs’ Leap was exhibited with Western Deep for the first time at Documenta Kassel in 2002 and is composed of two simultaneous and continuous film loops: the first shows the bay in Grenada and the daily life on the beach from dawn to dusk; the other commemorates the mass suicide of the native Caribs in 1651 when, rather than submit to the French, who had bought the island for a paltry sum and began chasing the natives off their land, they chose to throw themselves off a rock now known as Caribs’ Leap. New Year’s Day 2002, After Evening Dip, Mees 8, a work shown for the first time on this occasion, consists of a luminous box that contains an image referring to the artist’s private world.

Next to this room but in a separate space is a recent work by McQueen called Charlotte (2004). The 16mm film is the result of a collaboration with the actress Charlotte Rampling. It began when the artist met the actress and invited her to work with him on his video by saying simply, ‘I want to touch your face’.

The exhibition concludes with two video projections in different rooms: Girls, Tricky (2001) and Western Deep (2002). In the first the English rapper and music producer Tricky is filmed as he records a song in a London studio. In the film the camera moves around Tricky as he composes a new vocal track dedicated to fatherless boys. Western Deep was shot with a Super 8 camera three and a half kilometres underground in a gold mine in Johannesburg, South Africa. The camera follows the miners as they descend into the bowels of the earth in a noisy lift lit by a feeble light. The descent seems to last forever but comes to a halt in the excavation tunnel. The film silently documents the deafening work and ends with the alienating physical exercises that the miners perform to purify their bodies to the rhythm of a thunderous and inhuman signal and it is a visual experience in which the sounds and images cannot leave you unmoved.

Like other of McQueen’s films, in which the time dimension is conditioned by memory which, when stimulated, 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 have made videos in the most varied locations, from underneath my bed to the deepest mines in South Africa’. Another key element in his artistic language – characterised by visual reductivism, severe monumentality and distilled elemental images – is surprise, which he achieves by constantly changing syntax, passing from black-and-white (Stage, 1966) to colour (Catch, 1997), from historical references (Caribs’ Leap, 2002) to a moment of strong intensity (Western Deep, 2002), and from scenes of metropolitan life (Drumroll, 1998) to more personal and involving material (7th November, 2001).

In addition to video installations, McQueen has experimented with many other media, including sculpture (White Elephant, 1998) and photography (Barrage, 1998), which, with his cinematographic language, 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 (1996) and the Turner Prize (1999) in London. He was made the DAAD Artist in Residence (Berlin, 1999) and Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – OBE (2002). He has had many solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world, the most recent being at the Art Institute in Chicago (2002), the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2003), Thomas Dane, London; South London Gallery, London (2004) and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (2004).

Currently Steve McQueen lives and works in London and Amsterdam.

The exhibition is curated by .


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Steve McQueen
Kurator: Germano Celant