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Giardini (2009)

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35mm colour film,
transferred to HD digital format,
sound, 30 minutes 8 seconds,
two-channel video projection

Steve McQueen represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Specifically for that occasion, he shot his film in the Giardini, the municipal gardens from which the film takes its name, where art is presented a summer long every two years in pavilions, each devoted to a different nation. The split-screen projection shows bare trees in wet, grey weather and confetti on the ground, left over from the famous Carnival in Venice. It is wintertime, the season when the park and the empty pavilions are left to themselves. Fact and fiction overlap, for instance, when McQueen underscores the emptiness by filming greyhounds scavenging around in front of the abandoned pavilions. The visual coherence that might be anticipated by the parallelism of the split screen is undermined by black intervals and incongruent pairs of pictures. The stationary camera registers what happens and passes in front of it. Day and night follow each other in quick motion. Microcosmic details — beetles crawling on a twig, a worm slinking on the ground — are combined with sweeping sightlines along the paths. There are few signs of human life: an anonymous, nocturnal encounter between two men and traces of cigarette smoke rising in the shadows. The ambient sounds of church bells, the splash of raindrops and the distant roar of sports fans at a game accompany this sequence of images.