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Show and Tell: Steve McQueen

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Photographs courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.  

When NASA scientists launched Voyager II in 1977, they attached Carl Sagan’s golden record holding more than 100 images—a primer on human civilization, minus war, disease, and other unflattering earthly facts. In his multimedia work Once Upon a Time, the British artist Steve McQueen projects these photos and diagrams—“National Geographic–like,” he calls them—to a soundtrack of glossolalia, the “speaking in tongues” associated with Pentecostalists but found across the globe. “It’s a verbal cascade, a lullaby,” says the Turner Prize winner, who with his constant groping for the perfect word (at one point, he leaves the room in mid-sentence to fetch a dictionary) can seem to be speaking in tongues himself. “Brian Eno used to talk it,” McQueen says. “He told me Björk speaks it, too.” In the installation, the burble of syllables defamiliarizes these stock images, turning the recent past into science fiction. “Glossolalia is not about religion—it’s about language, its total failure,” he says. “That’s what I love about it.”

Steve McQueen
At Marian Goodman Gallery
Through February 19


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