Steve McQueens latest work, an exhibition at the Serpentine gallery is a 24 minute film documenting the Grenfell fire 6 months into its aftermath. The video26 begins with an image shot from a helicopter, floating over west London. We hear street sounds below but nothing too discernible, mostly we hear the ambient sound of a metropolitan city, bustling as it does. After 5 or so minutes the helicopter reaches the Grenfell tower and the sound fades out, in a single take we encounter the building, that still stands tall despite being scorched and emptied, plastic wrap holds parts of the foundation in place, like a gauze oscillating in the wind. Inside the building we see humans in hazmat suits and piles of pink trash bags. They resemble forensic archeologists.
“Ruins exist in an anachronistic, labyrinthine temporality, they are instantly ancient".27
Through our silent circumnavigation of the space around the ruin, it was simultaneously rendered abstract and materialised wholly. We look from every angle, as if McQueen wanted us to “see more”, see fully, a 360 degree image of the event’s aftermath. Going around and around you become deeply aware of the quiet liveness of the world in which the building is situated. You notice a school on the grounds, perhaps you imagine the schoolyard full of kids playing in the shadow of the skeletal structure.
While in Memoria, Hernans stillness draws attention to the grass in which he lay, the absence of sound in Grenfell brings attention to the liveness of both sides of the threshold space, the filmic representation as well as the cinematic space of the gallery. You become hyper aware of the sound of the person behind you slowly opening a pack of gum, awareness of your own body too is awoken, like when you’re told to be still and you become tremendously itchy, your stomach starts to growl. It's uncomfortable being in silence with others, it doesn’t align with Bishop's mimetic engulfment29 where you lose sight of your body and your mind is able to become one with the representation. The absence of sound in McQueen’s Grenfell works to keep the threshold subject both inside and outside the screen, aware of one's own body and the other 30 or so bodies in the room, and deep in flight, on a plane with the ruination. After the sound comes back in and the screen dips to white, illuminating the room with its afterimage, we exit to a wall text of the 72 names of the victims. Through the use of sound, McQueens single take installation keeps the threshold subject suspended in the inner/ outer space of the screen and body, drawing attention to the bold truth that Disasters occur in societies “and while they may be recognisable in terms of the disruption or destruction of the physical infrastructure of communities (ie. buildings, roads, water supply, electrical grids etc.), they are also located and understood within conceptual, ideological, and cultural systems of meaning at the same time as they can work to challenge these discursive formations.”30