About this artwork
Steve McQueen is an artist and filmmaker of Grenadian descent who was born and raised in London and lives in Amsterdam. In his reductive, often abstracted works, he pares down the projected image to its basic elements: light and dark, motion and stillness, silence and sound. The meanings in McQueen’s intensely concentrated films and projected-image installations—some exquisitely choreographed, others improvised—are at once elusive, elliptical, and subtly transgressive. Avant-garde film traditions, including cinema verité and the revolutionary films of figures such as Buster Keaton, Jean Vigo, and Andy Warhol inform McQueen’s improvisational approach, which is often defined by his preference for the handheld camera; distilled but coded actions, gestures, and performative expressions; and restrained post-production editing. Often, the bodies featured in the work include the artist’s own; almost always, they are black. With little interest in excavating the repressed psychological history of the African diaspora or exploring identity politics per se, McQueen instead facilitates his subjects’ creative empowerment through succinct works that leave ultimate interpretation to the viewer.
Exodus, McQueen’s first mature effort, distinguishes itself from the balance of his oeuvre in that it captures an event that the artist happened to encounter while out with his handheld Super 8 camera. This short, silent film documents two smartly dressed men from the West Indies moving through the crowded streets of London. Each carries a potted coconut palm, a crude, if accidental, symbol of the tropics. Despite the burdens they carry and the challenges of navigating the city, they move efficiently through their environment, integrated with it even as the merrily waving palms above their heads distinguish them in the crowd. Their pace soon outstrips McQueen’s, and they move away from the recording device that documents—even questions—their actions. They cross against oncoming traffic and deftly board a double-decker bus. The final scene shows one of the men waving from a rear window as the vehicle moves away. Like the 1977 song of the same name by renowned reggae singer Bob Marley, Exodus is a poetic, largely metaphoric consideration of experiences and migrations within the global black diaspora.
— Entry, Film, Video, New Media, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 35 (1), pp. 92–97.
- Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- Steve McQueen
- Made 1992–1997
- Super 8 film, silent, transferred to digital video (monitor); 1:05 min. loop Edition number two of four
- Donna and Howard Stone New Media Fund
- © Steve McQueen