Filmed from a helicopter circling the Statue of Liberty in New York, Steve McQueen’s Static fixes its gaze on this most iconic representation of freedom. This In Focus project examines the artwork in depth to delineate the questions it raises about freedom, surveillance, migration and the construction of history.
Made in the same year that the Statue of Liberty was re-opened to the public after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Steve McQueen’s seven-minute film Static shows the view from a helicopter as it circles anti-clockwise around the iconic New York monument. In contrast to the work’s title, the camera used to make the film remains in constant motion, moving between close-up and distant aerial shots of the statue, while the sound incorporates the noise of the helicopter’s engine, its rotating blades, and the roaring wind.
Static can be seen as a condensation of McQueen’s longstanding concerns with the nature of freedom, sight and responsibility in the way that it visually scrutinises an iconic and beleaguered symbol of liberty. This project situates Static not only in relation to McQueen’s other artworks and feature films but for the first time in relation to the writings of Hart Crane and Samuel Beckett, considering how the film’s stuttering vision of the statue raises urgent questions about the efficacy and significance of monuments, the changing attitudes towards migration, and the meaning of freedom in a post-9/11 world.
Written in 2016 and published in July 2017, the project is authored by Dr Rachel Wells (Newcastle University) and includes a contribution by Dr Rod Mengham (University of Cambridge).