Steve McQueen is an internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker who, over the last twenty years, has authored some of the most seminal works of the moving image and sculpture. His work hovers between the specific and the universal, the literal and the abstract, evading definition and multiplying experiential and interpretive possibilities. Certain works stem from McQueen’s unflinching observation of the self, others draw from a potent, at times bleak, political consciousness, which addresses specific historical moments.
END CREDITS takes as its inspiration the life of African-American singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976). McQueen envisioned the structure of the piece as one related to the conclusion of every feature film: the rolling credits. Here however, the backstory becomes the narrative itself.
Beginning in the 1920s Robeson pursued his lifelong artistic and intellectual activities: performing in concerts, plays and films. By the 1930s he was traveling extensively, writing and speaking internationally on social and political issues and to overwhelming acclaim. As World War II began in Europe, Robeson returned from London to the U.S. and emerged as a symbol of the fight against fascism abroad and racism at home. He was a national hero hailed by both black and white Americans. A powerful voice for social justice, he was blacklisted in the 1950s for his activism, and his career as a performer was all but destroyed. 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, with crippling effects. In poor health, he spent his final decade in seclusion in New York and Philadelphia.
McQueen’s work is a radical look at Robeson’s extraordinary story. The artist has included every document – thousands and thousands of pages – in Robeson’s recently declassified, although still heavily redacted, FBI files. The work is an exercise in duration: over six hours of ‘footage’ combined with a spoken-word soundtrack. The discrepancy between the visual and audio components reates a predictable but asymmetrical loop. END CREDITS was first shown in 2012 and continues to evolve. As more documents are declassified each year, Innsbruck International has recently co-produced its latest sequence.