Steve McQueen’s Gravesend (2007)
National College of Art and Design/Birkbeck College, University of London
(at time of presentation)
Sarah Durcan is a PhD student in the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her research topic is Falsifying Narratives: an Aesthetic beyond Fiction and Documentary – a study of selected moving image installations by contemporary artists.
She is a lecturer in Media, Faculty of Fine Art, National College of Art & Design, Dublin. She has exhibited work as an artist in solo and group exhibitions in Ireland and Europe and received awards from the Arts Council of Ireland and EVA International biennial exhibition, Limerick among others.
Recent activities include a review article: 'Steve McQueen: The Go Between' published in Screening the Past, Issue 38, December 2013 and the presentation of a paper on ‘Cinema in the Gallery’ at the White Cube / Dark Cube Symposium, February 2014, Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK.
This presentation is based on research into contemporary artists’ moving image installations that create a form of documentary fiction. The context to this project is the expansion of moving image installations in contemporary art during the mid nineties and 2000s. In this ‘cinematic turn’ artists began to bring cinematic forms into the gallery. The intersection between the gallery and cinema is the starting point for this research. By employing cinematic genres and strategies, artists’ moving image installations bring the reflexive frame of art history and theory to the cinematic.
Taking Steve McQueen’s Gravesend (2007) as a case study, this presentation shows how McQueen uses an apparently documentary approach and then undermines it by means of a fictionalising aesthetic. Gravesend is a seventeen-minute film installation based on miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The gallery spectator is placed between the physical space of the installation, the screen image and references to other times and spaces suggested by the filmic image. It is the spectator who holds together the diverse geopolitical references suggested by Gravesend, becoming an engaged witness who is physically affected by the film’s sound and visual effects.
The presentation explores how McQueen creates his own cinematic apparatus, based on an embodied form of spectatorship and a materialist approach to narrative. McQueen’s disjunctive aesthetic, which merges the documentary and the fictional, is situated in relation to André Bazin’s writings on neo-realist film and recent theorisations of artists’ moving image installations.