On March 31st, 2022, the retrospective Sunshine State by the artist Steve McQueen (London, 1969) opened at Pirelli HangarBicocca. The exhibition is curated by Vicente Todolì and designed with the collaboration of the artist himself. The exhibition feels like a travelling backword through the career of Mr. McQueen with the intention of establishing the turning points that shaped his artistic production and underlining how, after many years, the corpus of his works remains profoundly topical.
During the press conference, happened on 29th March, McQueen stated that he has followed the site-specific installation method through which HangarBicocca has always distinguished itself in the past exhibitions. Instantly, space and setting create an extremely immersive atmosphere where nothing is left to chance. The first artwork we can see in this path is Static (2009). The great Lady Liberty stands over the visitors’ heads hanging from a screen placed on the ceiling. The darkness and the huge spaces of HangarBicocca establish an intimate relationship with the video that makes us forget the space around.
Charlotte (2004) and Cold Breath (1999), visually impactful in their essential nature, allow the visitors to continue the journey inside the exhibition. The scarlet red of Charlotte shows the artist’s finger that brushes, touches and caresses the eye of actress Charlotte Rampling. Silence falls: we are watching a meditation on the human eye, its vision capabilities and implications in cinema and life. In opposition to the decadence of Lady Liberty, Charlotte’s eye, which is a substance that is reticent to physical contact, shows a higher resistance than the oxidized iron of the statue in the previous video. Cold Breath is a meditation on the limits of our body, as silent as Charlotte. It alerts on the fact that even the most pleasant things of life, if repeated to the extreme, can be source of pain and discomfort. The artist pinches his own nipple, trying to challenge his body by playing a game between pleasure and pain.
Suddenly, a light catches our attention: sound emerges again. The magic came from this sudden acoustic immersion highlights how much care was given to the auditory experience as well. Sunshine State (2022) is the unpublished artwork of the artist, commissioned and produced by the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2022, and here presented for the first time. We find ourselves faced with a continuous visual test: repetitions, jumps from positive to negative images, from light to darkness. The main source of this work is the movie The jazz singer (Crosland, 1927) of which the artist used some footage in order to meditate on the history of cinema, its transition from silent to sound and the influence it has on the perception of human identity. The two-channel installation, visible from both sides of the screen, allows the visitors to perform their own path around the artwork, becoming a part of it. The audio-part is a story where McQueen talls about an episode of racism suffered by his father while he was living and working in Florida, the “Sunshine State”. Personal and cultural roots meet and melt together. The exhibition introduces a thematic proximity to present times that has the bitter taste of History and memory.
Moonlit (2016) and Caribs’ Leap (2002) represent the meaning of memory, the erosion of the past and remembrance. Moonlitis a sculpture composed of two marble rocks, enlightened by a mere spotlight, echoing our presence in the moment. The weight of the stones reminds us of asteroids as carrier of both destruction and renewal. By looking down into ourselves and at the actual moment, Caribs’ Leap urges us looking up and going back on time to that cliff from which part of the population of Grenada jumped to escape the colonial rule in 1651, place from which the artist’s family come from. Western Deep (2002) concludes the journey into the interior spaces of the Hangar (eventually, the real conclusion of the exhibition will take place outside, showing the second part of Caribs’ Leap projected on one of the walls of the building). This video introduces us to an environment made of pure sound and tension, immersed in darkness. We take a step beyond the previous works. Visitors enter the “Cube room” of the Hangar, a cinema that was set up for Western Deep. The grain of Super8 film is the only thing our eyes can hold on to while we descend into the TauTona mine.
At the end of this voyage, we realize that we are part of the setting-up, part of the story that Steve McQueen wanted to tell through his dense artistic production. Unaware actors of this retrospective, walking through the dark corridors, we have carried out an artistic action, a personal performance around twenty years of art history.
Steve McQueen, Sunshine State
curated by Vicente Todolì
31/03/2022 – 31/07/2022
In collaboration with Tate Modern, Londra
Via Chiese, Milano
Steve McQueen, Cold Breath, 1999, (still) 16mm black and white film, 10’. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery
Steve McQueen, Charlotte, 2004, (still) 16mm color film, no sound, 5’ 42’’. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery
Steve McQueen, Sunshine State, 2022 (still). A Commission for International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), 2022. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery
Steve McQueen, Static, 2009, (still) 35 mm color film, transferred to HD, sound, 7’ 3’’. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery
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