Standing on the Northern Line southbound platform at Mornington Crescent early in the morning, you’re greeted with a familiar sight. Amongst the mundane advertisements, you’ll find a class photo much like the kind you could find in anyone’s primary school yearbook. A few rows of children flank their teachers before a school bulletin board. The only clue as to what the photo is from is in the bottom left corner where you read can ‘#Year3project.’ The photo is part of a new series of works by Turner Prize and Oscar-winning artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen.
The project, titled Year 3, includes more than 76,000 seven and eight-year-old children from schools around London who are in their third year of school. The project is meant to highlight community by giving a snapshot of diversity amongst London and it’s also on view in the Tate Britain Duveen Galleries. McQueen stated that he chose third year students as it is an integral point in their development. It’s when children begin developing a sense of self-confidence and individuality, it’s also when negative influences can make an impact on their outlook. Needless to say, having your photo hung in one of the UK’s best-known galleries and dotted around London would be exciting for anyone, but it’s surely even more special to the children McQueen focused on.
The project extends from the gallery into the streets of London in collaboration with Tate’s Artangel with 600 large-scale billboards popping up in tube (not just Mornington Crescent) and train stations across the city’s boroughs. The process, though, required a lot of planning. More than 1,500 school ultimately took part in the project, which meant the Tate had to go the extra mile to protect the identity of the children who participated. To do so, nine Tate photographers were tasked with taking the photos and all of the images were developed and framed in house. Additionally, none of the photos have any identifying features on them in the gallery; they’re simply hung in a gridded pattern with a sliding magnifying glass to give you a better look at the classes. With so many schools involved, the Tate Britain has seen a significant spike in school attendance as they flock to the museum over the next three months to see their own photo in the gallery. The museum, which had to make special accommodations for the number of school groups coming in, have also trained staff to know where to find each school group in the galleries. After the exhibition is taken down, the photos will be returned to their schools
The Year 3 project also has close ties to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. McQueen grew up in West London where Grenfell was a usual site and point of reference. For two of the schools who participated in McQueen’s portraits, Avondale Park and Thomas Jones primary schools, the topic is ever-present as students who attended the schools perished in the Grenfell disaster. Before Grenfell was covered by an external wrapper, McQueen took video footage of the building in December 2017 which is shown on a website for Grenfell Tower, the working title for a project McQueen is self-funding. ‘There’s an urgency to reflect on who we are and our future […] to have a visual reflection on the people who make this city work. I think it’s important and in some ways urgent,’ said McQueen of Year 3, and for the next few months, Londoners and visitors will see the future first hand around the city.