Steve McQueen with schoolchildren in Year 3 at Tate Britain, 2019
Previous page: A child who participated in Year 3 spots his class portrait at Tate Britain
GARY YOUNGE Steve, we met almost exactly this time last year when Year 3 was being assembled at Tate Britain and were talking about what you thought it might do, and what it meant to you. Looking back on it now, how do you feel the project has gone?
STEV E MCQUEEN I was enthused by how many people knew about Year 3 and that it became such a talking point. So many people had strong personal connections to the work. It became about London, about the future.
GY Are you satisfied with the kind of conversations that it produced?
SM The conversations were at a level of engagement I could never have predicted. Education became a really important part of the conversation and the whole idea of the city; what London is, what London looks like and its future. When I was first in the Duveen Galleries, looking at all the photographs installed on the walls, it became apparent that Tate Britain was the only place where you could see a glimpse of the future.
GY I was really struck from the outset by the powerful simplicity of the idea – taking all year-three kids, aged seven and eight usually, and putting all of the class photos of London in one place. When we last spoke you talked about the fact that in these photographs there could be a future prime minister, a banker, a bank robber and a kid who doesn’t even make 21… These lives are all in there, but we don’t know who they are yet. A viewer reflecting on their own life would inevitably go back to their own class photos. What about your own journey to this point, Steve?
SM My journey was very precarious, and I look back at my education with a sense of joy and real dread. I had a talent, and that was to draw. Art gave me my liberty. It was my life vest. Without my talent for drawing, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
GY Something you said there, which really struck me, relates to the idea of unlikeliness. I think about how unlikely my life now would have felt to me when I was in my early 20s and already three times the age of the children in Year 3. Back then, I didn’t see the life that I have now. And here you are, with your accomplishments, and there is something about the unlikeliness of the conversation we’re having. It gives me hope when I look at those pictures. Who knows what conversations the children in the photographs might have in the future?
SM Exactly, that’s beautifully said, and who knows? I think that was the fuel for this project. I was a dyslexic child with a lazy eye, considered by my secondary school as fit only for manual labour. When I was 13 or 14, the school authorities put me in a ‘lane’ and that was going to be my lot – but it wasn’t.
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