I brought my 9 year old up to London on Saturday to visit London Zoo with his friend, a belated birthday treat. We stood opposite one of the massive ‘Year 3’ billboard posters on the Victoria Line. I pointed it out to the kids, reminding them that last year their photos were taken for this exhibition. Their class could also be up on a wall somewhere.
I don’t think they really remember last year when the photo was taken. When you are 7 and 8 time stretches, a week feels as long as a month, a month stretches to a year. But they are certainly going to remember their planned visit to the Tate Britain. I know they will feel what I am currently feeling, excitement to visit the grand halls of Tate Britain, excitement to see my son on the wall.
Excitement is soon replaced with the realisation that I have to scan 3,128 class photographs to find him. My neck aches in the biggest games of ‘Where’s Wally’ I have ever taken part in. I take my time to scan the 75,000 faces staring directly at me.
I am worried I won’t find him or won’t be sure, the photos at the top are hard to see. Did they take it in the school hall with the gym equipment behind?
Then the sheer joy of finding my little guy and his classmates. I am thrilled and emotional that he is a small part of this epic artwork. I look around wanting to share my good fortune in finding him and my pride that he is a part of this. I boldly go up to the director of Tate Britain, Alex Farquharson, and tell him I found my son. I just love this exhibition so much.
An emotional connection is just one reason why Year 3 – a portrait of London is a highlight of the year for me.
This exhibition tells you about schools, about class sizes, state, independent, faith and special schools, it includes home schooled children and pupil referral units. It shows art works on the walls and bins in the corner, a table cloth over a piano and gym equipment pushed up against the wall.
It tells you about teachers and teaching assistants, over 6,000 individuals in charge of looking after London’s future. My own son’s teacher completing her very first year as a newly qualified member of the school and doing an amazing job with passion and commitment.
It tells you about school uniforms, those that conform and those that strive for any hint of individuality from frilly socks to cat-ear headbands. Jumpers and cardigans, colours in bright blocks a great aid to tracking down your nearest and dearest.
I love this exhibition as art in schools is squeezed out the door and budgets are cut, as trips to museums and galleries are sacrificed. In this place 70% of London’s school children are held in a single art installation, part of something huge and celebratory.
They are hanging on the walls of the Tate Britain. In the launch speeches Alex Farquharson, Tate Britain’s director, gets it so right for me. Many of these children will come to find their class photographs, many will come for their first visit to the Tate Britain, perhaps their first visit to a gallery or museum and they will find themselves here on the walls. They will be a part of this place and once invited in, I hope they never turn away but keep banging on the door to be let in, to have a voice and to be heard.
I love this exhibition as the country votes on our collective future as we face climate change, unrest and discord. We have to stand on a tube platform, at a train station, look up at a billboard and squarely meet these 7 and 8 year olds in the eye as we decide their future. As these faces hold us to account for the decisions we make, I can not think of a more important and powerful time for this artwork to come into our consciousness.
I love this exhibition because it captures a year, an age, a school, a class, a week, a day, a moment in time. A click of a camera shutter, a frozen fraction of a second. A fraction of a second that holds everything, all that potential, all those stories and backgrounds, it holds the future of London, this city, this country, our world.
Where will these 75,000 faces go? What will they do and see? What choices will they make?
I love this artwork. It captures my son, my little boy. On the walls of the Tate, his hair sticking up, his tie wonky, his glasses smeared. My boy who loves lego and gingerbread biscuits. He will not stay in this moment, I can never get this moment back however much I might want to.
I love this shared moment in time, the art, the power, the 75,000 single voices as one. It hums and sings with life. It is so precious and perfect in all its imperfections. Thanks to Steve McQueen, Artangel, A New Direction and Tate. Thank you for showing me this one moment, for capturing all he is, all he will be, for capturing all my hopes and dreams and fears in one beautiful moment.
Steve McQueen Year 3 – A Portrait of London is a free exhibition at Tate Britain that runs from 12 Nov 2019 – 3 May 2020 https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3
A series of billboards will be displayed across London from 4th Nov – 18th Nov 2019. There is a map of locations on the Artangel website – https://www.artangel.org.uk/year-3-project/