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March 20 2013

Steve McQueen Retrospective at Schaulager in Basel

Schaulager in Basel currently presents the first comprehensive exhibition of work by the British video artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen. The show features more than twenty video and film installations, photographs and other selected work of Steve McQueen. The exhibition runs until September 1, 2013. In this video, we attend the opening of the exhibition on 15 March, 2013.

Steve McQueen Retrospective at Schaulager Basel. Vernissage, March 15, 2013.

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March 25 2012

Artists, performers and politicians on the Guardian Open Weekend

Some of the speakers at the festival of ideas and open journalism share their highlights and reflections

India Knight, novelist

"The atmosphere here is very friendly: the crowd at my event, on gender equality, were really nice, really engaged. There was a great mix of angry older women and younger ones who I was convinced were going to ask me about vajazzling. I was a little disappointed when they didn't. But I'm going to stay for the rest of the day – just mill about and see as many other sessions as I can. I'm just about to dash in and see John Lanchester in the Question time: what is the future of capitalism? session. I'm a great admirer of his."

Grayson Perry, artist

"I'm wondering if I'm playing to the paper or the audience when I do the live G2 Interview with Decca Aitkenhead. It's different when you are on your on your own with an interviewer – you just have to worry about them. I just saw Jim Al-Khalili because I love him on the telly. I have to keep up with my daughter, who is a scientist. This is the nearest to a festival I'll get. I hate camping, mud, fancy dress, and circus skills bring me out in a rash. All of that spiritual-fucking-ality at Glastonbury. You'd have to get me in and out in a helicopter."

Philippa Perry, psychotherapist and author

"I think print newspapers are going to die and if they want to succeed they need to feel more like a family. We're in the age of interactivity: people want to feel a part of it; the audience is not content to be passive any more. So this is the way forward. As a reader I'm thrilled to be here for the day, at the cutting edge of the media. I was particularly impressed by Gary Younge, who I have never seen speak before and was erudite, charming and funny. Admirably he was wearing a hoodie in solidarity with Trayvon Martin [the black teenager shot last month in Florida]."

Robert Harris, author

"The Guardian has always had the air of being more than just a paper. I started reading it when I was 15, which was the early 1970s when Heath was prime minister. I was living in the midlands and remember feeling at the time that there weren't many people who saw things the same way as me. So the Guardian was like a family. I went to visit the printers when I was at school and developed an affinity with it from then on. I have been forced to re-read Fatherland for my talk today. I never revisit my books but since this one is 20 years old it seemed the right time to do it. I felt quite a stranger to it – so much has changed since then. And it was a lose/lose situation: either it would be good and you can't do better, or bad and you feel like a failure. It was like looking at an old photograph and thinking, 'Was I really like that?'"

Steve McQueen, artist and filmmaker

"I'm happy to be here."

Jeffrey Sachs, economist

"I'm thrilled to be at such a grand event. I was in Chile and en route to Mozambique but didn't want to pass the opportunity to come to London for this. It's a wonderful idea for newspapers to do this kind of thing, but it's also important for society in a time when we absolutely need engagement. People feel alienated from the political system and this is a way to make them feel a part of the debates that are going on."

Jo Shapcott, poet

"I very much enjoyed my talk and hope that the audience did too. The questions were very sharp, particularly one from a gentleman who asked whether you could tell if a poem was by a man or a woman; that is something I have thought about a lot myself. It's buzzing here. I keep bumping into people who are saying how much they are loving it. One person even said it was intellectual heaven."

Tom Watson, Labour MP and member of the Commons culture committee

"The Open Weekend is a fantastic idea. It's giving the newspaper back to its readers. It's really enjoyable to see so many of them in the building and waiting around outside. It's a real explosion of colour and excitement. I've only just got here, though, as I've had surgeries this morning in my constituency, and I've been going door to door. There's a real fury about the budget, which is encouraging politically, but not so encouraging for my constituents who are bearing the brunt of it. I'm going to be talking about phone hacking on a panel chaired by Jon Snow, with Amelia Hill, Nick Davies - oh and Alan Rusbridger, so I'd better be on my best behaviour. It's only now that the people involved in uncovering the scandal can begin to come up for air and try to make sense of it all. I think the three issues I want to talk about today are ownership, regulation and ethics."

Jon Snow, Channel 4 News presenter

"I don't want to talk about phone hacking. I'm sure others on the panel will want to, but I'm sick of talking about phone hacking. What I really want to talk about is what it tells us about Britain. What is it about this country that makes us vulnerable to those kind of practices, ones that don't seem to have affected other countries? Is it the same thing that renders us a playground for the Russian mafia, if you think about the Russian man who was shot here the other day? And what is it about Britain that means we have such an appetite for this sort of tabloid journalism – ever since Jack the Ripper? I suspect that we live quite dull lives in this country, and we have an appetite for the kind of gossip that spices up our dull lives."

Linton Kwesi Johnson, poet

"I've been a Guardian reader for years – my favourite section is Obituaries. I've come along today with no expectations of what it's going to be like. Unfortunately I can't stick around after my session, I've got other places to be."

Ed Balls, shadow chancellor

"The atmosphere in the session was fine – it was a little dark and difficult to see the audience, but we had some interesting questions. I spoke about my love for Dolly Parton, and revealed the fact that I'm going to be the first cabinet minister ever to run the marathon."

Fiona Shaw, actor

"This is democracy in action: playful and unexpected, with no filters between us, the readers, and the media. It's a public conversation, which is really what the media today should be."


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October 15 2011

Abi Morgan: 'I don't look back. I am totally now'

Thanks to The Hour, playwright Abi Morgan has enjoyed an incredibly prolific year. Next up, a Thatcher biopic starring Meryl Streep, a Steve McQueen film about sex and a play about God

Abi Morgan shows up late, full of apologies, to a cafe on the corner of Exmouth Market in London's Clerkenwell. I tell her it would have been understandable if she had failed to turn up at all. For she is Mrs British Screenwriter and it is daunting even to try and imagine her workload. This has been, as she says, an "extraordinary" year in which "it is all happening at once".

She has a hasty look as she bustles in, wrapped in a black shawl – part Mediterranean peasant, part human dynamo. The minute she sits down, we both start talking at once, as you do with people who, for some reason you cannot as yet explain, you instantly like. Right away, we are analysing her Diet Coke habit and she is promising, unconvincingly, that the one she is ordering will be her last and I can see that, at this rate, we are going to blow right off course.

So: quantity. Could we concentrate on this first? Does she even know how many scripts – for film and television and stage – she has written? After some genuine attempts at counting, she has to admit she doesn't. All right then: there is The Hour, the 1950s newsroom BBC drama watched by 2.1 million viewers (she is now working on a second series); Shame, a film directed by Steve McQueen, to be released in January; and, in the same month, the eagerly awaited biopic The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. And then there is her adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong, at last going ahead. And that is not to ignore her new play, 27, about to open at the Royal Lyceum theatre in Edinburgh. And we can't even begin to mention the scripts that never made it – some her personal favourites.

If I am not sure where to start, how must Abi feel? How does she keep so many plays in the air? As she talks, her flesh-coloured Perspex ring (from Next, she says) catches the light as she pummels, boxes and burrows with expressive hands. She has big, brown, intelligent eyes, which she likes to roll (often self-mockingly). And sometimes she watches me warily – she is not about to be tricked into blowing her own trumpet. She insists she is governed by "escape". If you have enough scripts on the go, there is always one to disappear into: "I am always running away from something." But she writes fast and adds – understatement of the year – "I don't have writer's block as such." She will do "eight or nine drafts" per script.

If I could spy on her at home, what would I see? She describes her north London house, currently a "building site", and her study in the middle of it. She has always had the ability to work in a hubbub. For her first 10 years as a writer, she had other jobs as telemarketer, researcher, caretaker, when she covertly scribbled. Now, her days are a combination of "frenzied work" and "procrastination". She starts at nine, finishes at seven. But this isn't solid working? "In that time, I am doing a hell of a lot of internet shopping, navel-gazing, picking away at my partner, sharing several cups of tea with whoever turns up…"

But the day has to be more organised than it once was – children make one "conservative" and she and her partner, Jacob Krichefski, an actor, have two (Jesse, aged nine, and seven-year-old Mabel). She writes in chaos: a nest of papers, bits of chocolate, her daughter's hair slides, a huge whiteboard "besieged by my kids" and with nothing sensible on it. The promise to tidy her study is broken every day. And she never makes lists. David Hare – she quotes him brightly – apparently once declared: "If you can't remember it, it wasn't important enough." I protest at this. And her face clouds over, too, as she confesses she spends her whole time forgetting things.

I am a huge fan of The Hour and before we move on need to be reassured that Dominic West, who plays Hector, the news presenter, has survived into the second series (if only because it looked, at the end of the first, as if he might vanish into the beautiful, boring arms of his posh wife and forfeit his life in current affairs for ever). She delights me by saying: "Everyone in the cast is coming back" and: "I am really excited about where I can take Hector… I think there is a darker place for him to go but that is all I am saying because… [she pauses as if recognising the absurdity] I haven't written it yet and [a different, more thoughtful pause] we start shooting in two months." We talk about the brilliant casting of The Hour – with Ben Whishaw as Freddie (she identifies with Freddie because he is "on a rollercoaster waiting to hit a wall") and Romola Garai as Bel. And she tells me that Jill Trevellick, who cast Downton Abbey, was responsible.

Anyone who has seen the trailer for The Iron Lady will agree that casting does not come more classy than Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, looking killingly plausible in her turquoise twinset. She is being told, by image advisers, to sacrifice the hat and pearls. But, deliciously, she pronounces the pearls "non-negotiable". The only thing wrong with Streep's performance is that, when she smiles, she is a smidgen too pretty. Nothing she can do about that, but she has worked on everything else. Abi says it was "an exceptional privilege" to watch her in the early stages: "The extraordinary thing is how quickly that voice was there."

This is no reflex rave. Abi knows about acting. Her father, Gareth Morgan, was a director; her mother, Pat England, is an actress. When reading English and drama at Exeter, she wondered about an acting career herself ("like someone whose dad is an electrician, having a go at changing plugs"). But after a university performance, she asked: "Mum, what do you think?" The reply was: "No, darling." Wasn't that hurtful? "Not at all. I felt incredibly relieved – I thought it was quite funny."

Her tutor's verdict was discouraging too. He said she was "'too short'. 'But what about Judi Dench?' 'Ah, but she has that voice.'" And what Streep has, we agree on, is "exceptional intuition". She "observes and listens and finds the character through the work". And what about Thatcher – did Abi meet her? She hesitates – sworn to silence at this stage. My guess, for what it is worth, is that she did.

Shame could hardly be less like The Iron Lady. I am amazed by a preview I see after meeting Abi. It is a stunning film. Michael Fassbender stars as a sex addict whose sober demeanour is completely at odds with his chaotic sex life. In no way is it about the joy of sex; it is about nightmarish compulsion, a New York underworld. Yet the two years Abi spent working with Steve McQueen were "joyous". McQueen is "brilliant… one of my favourite people".

Sex addiction is barely recognised in the UK, one reason why the film was shot in New York (this sort of territory is not new for Abi – 2004's Sex Traffic, about prostitution, won a Bafta for best drama serial). But what she and McQueen were interested in was how the "currency of romance" has been devalued by the internet, where "sex has become a phenomenal industry". They met sex addicts and the professionals working with them. It made her conscious of a peculiarly 21st-century agony in which "the quest for love and sexual intimacy swims against the tide of a therapised world that deconstructs love and a cynical internet world that commodifies sex".

Phew – and we haven't even got to the play that is our ostensible reason for meeting. This isn't fair, because 27 sounds extraordinary too. It is set in a convent in the west of Scotland and is an exploration of faith versus science. "I used to believe in God as a child. God, for me, was linked with hope." The inspiration was Abi's meeting with "two elderly nuns on a train to Edinburgh, returning to their convent". She realised they were a "dying breed – there were only five of them left". She thought their dedication "amazing" and wondered how they felt "about their own belief system with no one following after them".

She was also inspired by a "wonderful" book: David Snowdon's Aging with Grace about the effects of ageing on the brain in relation to Alzheimer's, based on a "study in midwest America of several hundred nuns who donated their brains after death".

After this, we talk a bit about age (Abi is 43 although her "inner age" is fixed in her late 20s) and about families – her childhood and her parents' divorce (she talks about the "bravery" it takes for people to admit their marriage is over). We also talk about belonging. She feels she grew up with no fixed abode, had a theatrical, peripatetic childhood. "The thing I love about London is that it is filled with migrants, including myself." And we bond over our mutual love, as children, for a Marine Ices kiosk that sold wonderful Italian ice cream on the edge of Hampstead Heath. We talk coconut versus pistachio. We talk children and technology. She exclaims that for her kids "the page is interesting but antiquated". She describes herself as a "technophobe married to a technowhizz".

We talk about husbands. And she tells me how "fantastic" hers is. He keeps the family going. "The answer to 'I don't know how she does it'," she says, "is usually 'someone else does it'" (and that someone might be a husband). She hopes she doesn't sound smug. She notes that this division of labour (the woman as main breadwinner) is becoming more common. By the way, did I know women's salaries are starting to overtake men's? It could be a "new world order". She wonders if there might be a play in it. I start to egg her on – you can see how things begin with Abi: a new play round every corner.

By the way, she hastens to add, she is around for her children at weekends, breakfast and bedtime. And she is glad her children can see she has a "huge passion" for work. Yet she struggles to see herself as a success. She is somewhere between modest and incredulous. "I am a short, tenacious woman running around trying to fit in a haircut. I don't look back. I don't look forward. I am totally now. I think: God, is someone going to pay me this week? That is totally amazing."


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


October 14 2011

Shame: world exclusive trailer - video

Watch the trailer for sex addiction drama Shame - Steve McQueen's second collaboration with Michael Fassbender



August 17 2011

Steve McQueen to direct 12 Years a Slave

British film-maker casts Chiwetel Ejiofor in true story of mixed-race man abducted and forced into bondage in Louisiana

British artist turned film-maker Steve McQueen has cast Chiwetel Ejiofor in the drama 12 Years a Slave, the true-life story of a mixed-race New Yorker who spent more than a decade on a Louisiana cotton plantation after being kidnapped, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ejiofor will portray Solomon Northup, who in 1841 was lured to Washington (then a southern slave state) with the promise of a well-paid job playing his fiddle in a circus. Northup was then drugged and awoke to find himself in a slave pen – he was not rescued until 1853, after a man he befriended managed to get word to his family – and lived under a number of owners, suffering great hardship. Northup's wife, whom he had left behind in New York, had to go to court to free him.

Northup detailed his experiences in a book, also titled Twelve Years a Slave, which helped historians build a picture of the slave experience at the time. Following his rescue, he became involved in the abolitionist movement and lectured on slavery in the north-east US. The practice was abolished throughout the country in 1865, following the 13th amendment to the US constitution.

McQueen made a splash with his debut film, Hunger, about the Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. He's reunited with the star of that film, Michael Fassbender, on sex-addiction drama Shame, which is due to premiere at the Venice film festival next month. Ejiofor, the British star of Dirty Pretty Things and Kinky Boots, also portrays a slave in the forthcoming Annette Haywood-Carter drama Savannah.

12 Years a Slave is being produced by Brad Pitt through his Plan B production company. John Ridley, writer of Undercover Brother, has co-written the screenplay with McQueen.


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March 08 2011

Artists donate Artangel collection to Tate

Collection of works by artists including Catherine Yass and Steve McQueen to be made available to museums across the UK

A new collection of film and video artworks by artists including Jeremy Deller, Douglas Gordon, Steve McQueen and Catherine Yass is to be donated to the Tate.

The innovative arts group Artangel, which this year celebrates its 20th birthday, announced the creation of the Artangel collection, which will be looked after by the Tate and made available to galleries and museums across the UK.

That means Artangel and the individual artists will be donating nine new works to the Tate, adding to the seven it already has. There will be five new commissions over the next three years.

Artangel's co-directors, Michael Morris and James Lingwood, said they had worked with artists setting new standards in film and video and they wanted results to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Morris said one of the most significant cultural developments over the past 20 years was the way in which artists "have pioneered new experiences with the moving image. Ambitious cinematic installations with the capacity to transform their setting for a complete emotional sound and image."

Among the works that will form part of the collection are Deller's recreation of the miners' strike Battle of Orgreave; Gordon's 1999 directorial debut, Feature Film; Richard Billingham's moving depiction of his family in Fish Tank; and Yass's High Wire featuring the French high-wire artist Didier Pasquette walking between high rises in Glasgow.

Artangel's commissions will be in collaboration with the Ikon gallery in Birmingham and the Whitworth in Manchester. The first two are from Yael Bartana – titled Lying in State, which will be premiered in the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale – and the artists Anri Sala and Sejla Kameric, with a work called 1395 Days without Red, which will be first seen at the Whitworth during this summer's Manchester international festival.

The Tate director, Nicholas Serota, welcomed the Artangel announcement. "This most generous and imaginative gesture ensures that these remarkable works of art will be enjoyed by generations to come and are made available for loans to galleries in the UK and beyond," he said.

As well as film work, Artangel has been involved in many noted art projects including Michael Clarke's dance work Mmm..., Rachel Whiteread's House and Clio Barnard's award-winning film from last year, The Arbor.


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March 06 2011

April 03 2010

The film that changed my life | Lynn Shelton

Hunger by Steve McQueen (2008)

About six months ago, a friend sat me down in his living room and said: "You have to see this film, you'll be forever grateful." I felt it was the most truthful film I'd seen in a long time. It's so under-written and it's not literary or theatrical, just purely cinematic: it reminded me of the full potential of cinema.

It influenced me as an artist in that it made me feel that I can trust my instincts and that in fact I must and I should.

McQueen had such a unique, singular vision for the film, which he followed through. I felt like he didn't lapse into more conventional ideas of how to tell a story.

The scene that really made an impression on me was the one where we see the prison guard washing the blood off his hands. It's so powerful, simple and understated. You realise what his day is filled with and why he has that look on his face. You understand so much from that one simple scene. It was absolutely brilliant film-making.

McQueen has an innate trust in the audience, in his own vision and in cinema itself. Sometimes, when you're trying to formulate or develop a film, there's a fear that you're going to lose the audience or that they're not going to stick with you, that you can't sit in a scene for the amount of time that the moment of humanity or interaction deserves. He also demonstrates that you can understate and that under-writing is possible - as opposed to overexplaining and overshowing things. The film reminded me of a book that I read a couple of decades ago called Sculpting in Time by the great Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. In the book, he talks about how sad he is that when cinema was born it adopted the model of theatre for its form. He thought that cinema had more kinship with poetry and called it the most truthful of art forms.

In the last year, I experienced a really monumental shift in my life, specifically in my life as a director. All of a sudden, there were more external influences bombarding me, people telling me I should make my film (Humpday) more commercial, should cast these people and so on, all of which I have never had to deal with before. So I saw Hunger at a point that I needed to see it – I needed to be reminded that I am an artist and that ultimately I do have to stand firm in my own vision.

Lynn Shelton is an American director


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January 27 2010

Why Britain's best artists leave

How can London be the capital of global art when our celebrity culture makes it such a miserable place for artists to live and work?

Chris Ofili, whose retrospective has just opened at Tate Britain, is just one of the British artists who have chosen to live abroad to get away from the madness of art's celebrity culture – including such serious figures as Tacita Dean and Steve McQueen.

So here's a paradox. Constantly, the media tell us that London is this century's Manhattan or Paris, that Britain is the world's leading art capital. Yet I believe that in Manhattan in the 1960s you would actually have found artists living and working – and if Picasso had fled back to Barcelona, the Musée Picasso wouldn't have been in Paris. Art capitals are traditionally places where artists thrive. But what kind of artist really thrives on our brand of instant celebrity?

As a critic, you forget what celebrity means. It's seeing people coo over someone who seems very ordinary to me, such as Grayson Perry – someone I've sometimes been rude about, sometimes praised, but certainly never mistaken for the kind of artist I, personally, would go weak at the knees to meet.

Celebrity is such a small thing compared with real fame. For me, a famous artist is one whose works have secured them a true place in art history, whose talent is mysterious and personality elusive. Jasper Johns is famous; Perry is a celebrity.

A celebrity is someone who is "like us" – just watch all those talent shows on TV – which by definition limits their genius. A celebrity, to have democratic appeal, really has to be a bit second rung, a bit ordinary. It's quite a contradiction. You have to catch the eye and yet you can't intimidate people with supreme abilities.

The purest expression of modern Britain's celebrity art culture, and its logical conclusion, was Antony Gormley's participatory artwork on the Fourth Plinth. Here was the mediocrity of the celebrity culture made monumental – everyone an artist, everyone a star, not a trace of imagination in sight.

No wonder the real artists run for their lives.


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