Fluctuating Perspectives

Even immobile objects are in a kind of flux. This is one of the insights of artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Static, a film that instigates new perspectives on one of the most familiar structures in the world.  Recently added to the Museum of Modern Art’s, New York, permanent collection, Static is a collage of shots from different perspectives on the Statue of Liberty, from close up detail to far off overview, shot from a helicopter. McQueen’s film reveals the structure in minute and intimate detail, suggesting some of the fluctuating perspectives on the wide range of overlapping, contradictory, values for which it stands: equality, freedom, hope, commerce, nationalism, security, humanitarian border policies and more.

Without drawing attention to any of these directly, McQueen situates the viewer in the rhythmic, pulsing swirl of the sound of a helicopter, which moves from alarming and threatening to repetitively comforting. One of the distinctive features of the work is the way the viewer becomes more attuned to the fluctuations in perceptions and reactions, how the same symbol or trigger can change the way it acts upon us.

For all the shifting perspectives, though, there is significant heed paid to the object itself as an object. In the way that object-oriented philosophy readjusts perspective from human subjects acting on objects to the way objects themselves function, interact and act, McQueen performs a similar reorientation towards the experience of humans’ perceptions. There’s a refusal to turn the object into a definable symbol and instead an attempt to capture an altered experience.

Made in response to President Obama’s decision to reopen the Statue to the public following its years of closure after the events of 9/11, this thoughtful and thought-provoking film starts from a simple premise, an aerial portrait of an iconic structure, but opens up a whole spectrum of associations and geopolitical questions.

Inbox: Steve McQueen runs this summer at Museum of Modern Art, New York. For more information: www.moma.org

1. Still from Steve McQueen’s Static. (2009).