Steve McQueen, Turner Prize winner and Oscar-winning director of 12 Years a Slave, Shame and Hunger, has collaborated with arts organisation Artangel, Tate Britain gallery and creative education agency A New Direction on the mammoth public art project Year 3 – a glimpse of which is appearing on 613 billboards across London from today (4 November). Each billboard features a photograph of Year 3 pupils from a London primary school, using the ubiquitous class photo format to make for a universally relatable and charming series documenting the city’s youth.
The photo series is being shown on billboards across all 33 London boroughs, preluding an expansive exhibition at the Tate Britain, which will include thousands of class photos of Year 3 pupils, opening on 12 November. For the project, McQueen invited every Year 3 pupil in London to have their photograph taken by a team of specially trained Tate photographers, adding up to tens of thousands of participants – hence the organisations’ claim it is “one of the most ambitious visual portraits of citizenship ever undertaken”.
Year 3 captures the pupils at critical point in childhood development, aged seven to eight, when a child becomes more conscious and aware of the wider world beyond their family, as well as their own sense of identity. London-born McQueen aims to portray this turning point in childhood and its imbued excitement, anticipation and hope – pertinent to the artist since he became a father over two decades ago.
“The seeds of this project started 21 years ago with the birth of my first child, a milestone that put my own journey in perspective,” McQueen said in a statement. "My hope is that through the billboards millions of Londoners can reflect on the past, the present and the future not only of themselves but of their city. I am very excited that this portrait of London will be seen by so many people as part of their daily life in this great city that I love."
Artangel is known for its art projects in unusual places; in 2017 Miranda July opened an interfaith charity shop in Selfridges with the organisation, and in 2016 it took over Reading Prison for a show featuring works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Ai Weiwei, Nan Goldin and Richard Hamilton.
The Year 3 billboards are being shown from today until 18 November around London. The Tate Britain show runs from 12 November 2019 – 3 May 2020.