Steve McQueen

End Credits

2012–20

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Not on display

Artist
Steve McQueen born 1969
Medium
Video, projection, black and white and sound (mono)
Dimensions
Video duration: 12hours, 54min
Audio duration: 42hours, 6min, 20sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2017
Reference
T15557

Summary

End Credits 2012 is a single-screen projection with audio, shown on a continuous loop. The work is inspired by the life of the African American singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson (1898–1976). It consists of black and white copies of scans of every document in Robeson’s recently declassified FBI file, the majority of which have been heavily redacted with black marker. A successful movie star in the 1930s, Robeson became increasingly committed to political and social issues. A powerful voice for social justice, Robeson was actively involved with the Civil Rights Movement in America and is considered an important symbol of the fight against fascism abroad and racism at home. In 1946, together with W.E.B DuBois and Albert Einstein, Robeson organised the National Crusade to End Lynching. His advocacy of anti-imperialism and affiliation with communism resulted in him being blacklisted by the United States government during the McCarthy era and his career as a performer was destroyed. His championship of the rights of workers and blacks, a trip to the Soviet Union and public appearances both at home and abroad not only made Robeson one of the most celebrated figures in the African American movement; he was also perceived as a serious threat to the anti-Communist politics of the Cold War. FBI documents obtained by McQueen through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that United States surveillance agencies had begun investigating Robeson as early as 1941. This scrutiny continued throughout the rest of his life. In poor health, he spent his final decade in seclusion in New York and Philadelphia.

McQueen chose to pay tribute to the civil rights activist and actor in the form of ‘end credits’, structuring his single-screen projection so that the scanned files are reminiscent of the rolling credits at the end of a film. Thousands of pages of heavily censored material from FBI files are translated into nearly six hours of film footage, highlighting the explicitly political nature of the discrimination, marginalisation and persecution that destroyed Robeson’s career. This is combined with a spoken-word soundtrack in which the documents are individually read out by a range of male and female voices. The visual and acoustic material soon shifts out of kilter so that there is a noticeable discrepancy between the two, and the work creates an asymmetrical loop.

End Credits was produced in an edition of four with two artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is number four in the main edition.

Further reading
Isabel Friedli (ed.), Steve McQueen Works, Heidelberg 2012, pp.168–71.
Stephen Hauser (ed.), I Want the Screen to be a Massive Mirror: Lectures on Steve McQueen, Heidelberg 2013, pp.115, 175.

Clarrie Wallis
May 2017

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