Cold Breath, 1999
Shot in 16mm, the film shows McQueen’s nipple as he strokes, pinches and rubs it insistently, evoking moments of intense physicality. In the silence of the film strip, punctuated by the mechanical sound of the projector running continuously, the image becomes increasingly abstract. Cold Breath takes on autobiographical traits, leading the viewer into an intimacy transcending the boundaries between corporeality and subjectivity. As in one of McQueen’s early works, Bear (1993), in which two naked men are portrayed wrestling, also in Cold Breath the body is raised to an “iconic presence” in the exhibition space, as noted by curator and art historian Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019). Playing on the ambivalence between impulse and desire, McQueen questions the deeper meaning of observing and, as he himself has pointed out: «One reason I wanted to investigate the image of the nipple was that it is like an eye, I wanted to explore the sensitivity of touch.» The focus on the act of looking, illustrated more explicitly in Charlotte (2004), is explored by the artist in its most physical and fleshly connotation, through a continuous reiteration of the action.