Monday, October 13, 2008

Being about something

Artist and film maker Steve McQueen in a Guardian interview:

I ask him if his films emerge, however obliquely, out of self-exploration? Are they essentially about his own inner struggles? 'God, no!' he shouts, startling both myself and the two hotel guests sitting opposite us. 'Don't even mention that in a newspaper. You cannot. I mean, come on! I'm not that selfish. I have never been interested in me. What I'm interested in is not I, it's we. Always. It's we: our history, our culture, whatever makes us who we are and informs how we act.'
I wonder. That sounds so right and virtuous that it cries out for questioning. Obviously, whenever we see a film or any work of art, we can sense the personality of its makers behind it. And every personality is formed in the crucible of its surroundings - genes, family, community, society, world. This means that even the most personal and private work of art will be a reflection of the time and place it is born in. Obversely, the most strenuous attempts at objective portrayal of the world are merely attempts of obscuring the artist's attitudes and thus end up the poorer for it, mere surface where emotional involvement would have added layers of meaning to it.
More objective without them, you say? There is no objectivity. It is impossible to achieve. Even uncut footage from a security camera is biased by its placement and lighting and then individually coloured by the attitudes of each viewer. There may be a Platonic Truth behind it all, but I'm not sure it is as interesting as the distortions we add to every experience, for they are what we call meaning. What it is about is not the prison, the cell, the cot nor the body upon it, but the unique suffering of that individual and what it does to his life and the lives of those around him. And the only way we can understand that is by asking ourselves: "How would I feel in his place?" Every work of art is personal, since every human being sees things through one single, unique perspective. A film is the result of many unique perspectives, but it is still never made by a whole culture. There is no 'we' there, just several individuals adding their own 'I' to aspects of it.

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