We mark Remembrance Day with a look at Steve McQueen’s moving work.
One anonymous day in November, I walked into Liverpool Cathedral. The weather outside was wild: gunmetal grey skies, hammering rain, wind slapping the walls. An umbrella lay discarded on the ground by the entrance, its ribs broken, its canopy ripped. So I took shelter inside the quiet, soaring spaces of the cathedral. Across the floor was spread a sea of poppies, each one attached to a wooden cross, each one bearing words of remembrance: a name and two dates, mostly. But on a few were also messages. On one I read the name of a soldier who had died forty years previously and, underneath, a handwritten scrawl that spelled out “I still miss you”.
The artist Steve McQueen has made a military tribute of a more formal kind; his Queen and Country, currently on show at IWM North, features facsimile postage sheets, each depicting the portrait of a soldier who died in the Iraq War (pictured above). “Many people read it as a memorial,” says IWN curator, Sara Bevan. “But it’s not that simple. It does commemorate the people whose portraits are on the stamps but at the same time it’s more ambiguous. It questions the idea of dying for your country.” In other words, McQueen asks us, was it worth it? It’s not answer that can be easily answered – but perhaps for me it was, that day in November in Liverpool. Perhaps it’s what eleven o’clock this morning is really about. Four simple words. “I still miss you.”