McQueen, Beyond Hunger

If the harrowing, formally daring Hunger, just out in Criterion Blu-ray and DVD editions, left you wanting to deepen your acquaintance with director Steve McQueen’s visceral imagery, you’re in luck, at least if you live in the New York area. This week is your last chance to catch two of the artist’s latest installations, currently on view (through March 6) at midtown Manhattan’s Marian Goodman Gallery.

First shown at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Giardini (2009), a thirty-minute work shot on 35 mm film and transferred to high-definition video, consists of two side-by-side projections of images from the municipal parklands of the title, famous as one of the sites of the Biennale’s International Art Exhibition but shown here in winter, with the pavilions boarded up. Thirty-second vignettes play out on each screen, accompanied by soundtracks recorded on location but not matched to what the viewer is seeing. The second piece, the seven-minute, 35 mm Static (2009), was created specifically for this New York show, and comprises shots of the Statue of Liberty taken from a circling helicopter, the statue always the center point of the frame, the skylines of New York and New Jersey visible behind it. “[McQueen] is most known for the consistency, power, and elegance of his vision—and his exceptional attention to the image, and to pacing and editing, framing and unframing, movement and stasis,” says Rose Lord, one of the gallery’s directors. “Static is particularly characteristic of this. It’s almost as if the Statue of Liberty is moving around us rather than the other way around.”

McQueen’s move to narrative filmmaking is perhaps not so great a departure from the creative métier he’s been working in for years as it might at first glance seem—which may explain in part how he made such an assured debut. Hunger, after all, though narrative and character-driven, is not a very conventional historical movie, often jettisoning extraneous exposition in favor of fragmentary details and abstract, transcendently poetic images. “Hunger is very characteristic of Steve’s work—in the framing and editing as well as the way that he uses sound to create atmosphere and drive the film,” says Lord. Abbey Lustgarten, producer of the Criterion release, was similarly struck by how of a piece McQueen’s work in his different arenas is when she visited Marian Goodman: “What I discovered is that Steve is constantly using the camera to take us to places we otherwise would not see, and for extended periods of time: the prisoners’ existence in an H-Block prison cell; this close-up, aerial vantage point of the Statue of Liberty, circling around and around; the quiet interim of the gardens at the Biennale.”

McQueen has announced that he’ll be returning to feature filmmaking for his next project, a biopic about Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It will be exciting to see what shape that story will take in this artist’s hands.

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