'Interview about 'Shame'', Steve McQueen, 2011.
Bear, Steve McQueen, 1993.
McQueen is in many ways a master in representing the nuances and reality of violence, owing to his ability to work within certain grey areas without making value judgments. Brutality and a sense of threat is often overt, just as is an eroticism manifested in the blurring of bodies. But equally important is the open-endedness with which McQueen treats violence: the cyclical nature of how even those committing it are themselves worn away or destroyed by it. As bell hooks states in ‘The Will To Change’: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem”. In the case of McQueen’s work, these rituals of power are made explicit.
In 'Bear', an 11 minute silent film from 1993, McQueen himself features in a black and white portrayal of two black wrestlers, shot in 16mm from a mid-point below, as they grapple and grimace within the frame. Once again, explicit violence and threat is tempered by an overarching sense of tenderness and vulnerability. The codes of combat sports, of violence, are subverted in a way reminiscent of Barbara Kruger’s ‘You Construct Intricate Rituals Which Allow You to Touch the Skin of Other Men’ as well as Judith Butler's notion of performativity. McQueen manages to hold this tension between brutality, violence, and tenderness in much of his work - and says of it, “I was only illuminated by violence. Violence made me present”.
McQueen's 'Illuminer' was shot in a Paris hotel room is early November 2001, and runs about 15 minutes. The video features McQueen himself alone in bed watching a documentary about US military training in preparation for a mission in Afghanistan. Shot with an economy of means, we see McQueen’s body, blurring in and out of focus, bathed in the reflected colors of the broadcast. The short film asks questions not only of representations of violence and through what media they are consumed, but of mediated information itself - something that not only evokes Hito Steyerl's 'In Defense of the Poor Image', but of exactly what my own work is concerned with (namely the series Consensual Crimes, This Is Fine, Rottweiler, and the latest Lockdown Diary).
As discussed further in the Arc, McQueen's acclaimed 'holding shots' (as exampled in the figured clip of Bear) were very influential in preparing for my own piece, Rottweiler. While his 'economy of means' approach is seen in Lockdown Diary.