Socrates Sculpture Park

Profile of an Emerging Artist

As part of this new web series, every month throughout EAF13, our latest Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition, we will feature a different participating artist who completed our 2013 residency and whose culminating work is currently on view in the park.


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David McQueen builds things to help people recall their past.

By focusing on obsolete technology -- like windmills and lighthouses, whose architectural structures may have survived, but which no longer have a functional purpose -- he creates sculptures that remind us of, and at times mimic, a history that is long gone.  Lighthouses have been replaced by GPS technology, and windmills by electricity.  McQueen’s kinetic sculptures, often placed near waterways from the ocean to the East River, are meant to be meditative and transporting.

He describes his past work as “monumental” and “heroic,” so when McQueen was first awarded an Emerging Artist Fellowship his original concept was to construct a towering 30-foot lighthouse in the park. But then he visited Socrates and saw the 1872 Blackwell Island Lighthouse across the river on Roosevelt Island, another idea emerged.  “It was a crystallizing moment,” he said recently while sitting in the open-air artist studios in the park.  “We often trust large structures because they are big, and that they existence makes us trust them implicitly.” But a fallen lighthouse, which is how his project evolved, depicts a failed or collapsed scenario.  To him, the seemingly broken structure represents the simultaneous past and future of the Blackwell Lighthouse, and its humility makes it an underdog. “You want to sympathize with it,” he said, “root for it.”

He assumed many would see the sadness in the object itself, and brought that anthropomorphic aspect to the next level.  Through his fallen lighthouse, McQueen created a conduit for people to share their deepest thoughts and forgotten memories.  His sculpture, titled One of us may have been sleeping, so I’ll tell you again tonight, comes with a phone number (718-473-9985) and invites text messages throughout the exhibition, which ends on March 31, 2014.  McQueen encourages people to bring the past to light, quite literally: his sculpture translates the text messages into Morse Code and flashes them across the East River toward the Blackwell Lighthouse.

As part of the project, McQueen encourages people to “text anything left unsaid” to anyone, whether friends or family, current or past, or even to yourself. “After all the things you’ve learned, what would you say to your teenage self, if given the chance?” he asked.  Many have already taken that chance.  The “Socrates Beacon,” as he refers to it on Twitter, has already received about 250 messages that were broadcast across the river. 

The messages received have ranged from serious to silly, and even angry. On October 16th, one texter lamented, "I wish I didn't push you away. I was so afraid of losing you, and in the end I did anyway." McQueen tweets the messages using his @socratesbeacon handle. 

His use of technology to activate outdated machinery may seem ironic, but for McQueen it’s an effective strategy to allow “people to access the past.” He hopes that the strength of spreading the messages widely over social media will encourage others to communicate their own messages.  The texts seem to come from a wide variety of audiences, and the senders are always anonymous.

Next up for David McQueen is an exhibition at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he will further develop his work on navigational structures, building a large-scale boat that recalls the surrounding Naval community.  Till then, he said, he will focus on building smaller objects.

One of us may have been sleeping, so I’ll tell you again tonight is part of EAF13, a group show currently on view at Socrates Sculpture Park, through March 31, 2014.

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