A standout piece in the last Venice Biennale
, Steve McQueen’s powerful double-sided video installation Ashes (2014) is being show in the US for the first time at the ICA Boston next month (15 February-9 July 2017). The museum acquired the work in early 2016 as a gift from the collectors Tristin and Martin Mannion.
Ashes is a diptych of two projections on a single screen. One side shows a young fisherman from Grenada named Ashes happily sitting on a bobbing fishing boat in the Caribbean. Shot by the Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller on grainy Super 8 film, the idyllic 20-minute scene is unused footage from McQueen’s 2002 film Carib’s Leap. The other side, produced in high-definition video, shows images of dirt and plants that are eventually revealed to be a graveyard. When McQueen returned to Grenada to track down the work’s subject, he learned that Ashes had died from multiple gunshot wounds after finding a stash of drugs on the beach. The story told by Ashes’ friends about his murder serves as the shared soundtrack for both films.
The work is “very much a portrait of Ashes and a meditation—both impressionistic and narrative—of his life and death”, says Dan Byers, the Mannion Family senior curator who co-organised the exhibition. “It expands on McQueen’s interest in the ways that bodies can be confined and defined by history, labour and the legacies of colonialism and globalism, and conjures a vivid, sensitive portrait and place against the darker forces of society and fate.”