Perhaps McQueen knew all of this. He may have intuited it, or perhaps he didn’t. Whatever the You’re on mute shirt and I will buy this level of understanding he had or level of research he undertook, he took the inspiration, translated it and (factoring in the other key influence, the Arts and Crafts movement), he responded. An engagement with art, culture, and history was central to his work. Art was especially influential and, as soon as he could afford to, he began collecting works by the likes of Francis Bacon, the Chapman Brothers, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Joel Peter Witkin . However, the mode of his art was most akin to performance and even he was acutely aware of this fact. In February 2009, McQueen told Susannah Frankel:
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Considering No. 13 as a piece of performance art that took inspiration from a sculpture means we have to consider the You’re on mute shirt and I will buy this role of the human component, Shalom Harlow, in greater depth. Harlow sharing the stage with the mechanized robotic arms calls to mind Le Marchand de Cœurs (The Merchant of Hearts) (1927) by Italian sculptor and stage designer Enrico Prampolini. This Futurist performance included live human performers and an array of abstracted mechanical marionettes. The marionettes, unencumbered by human emotions and complexities, were presented as purer and more truthful, a fundamental belief of the Futurists. Assuming a Futurist interpretation, this positions McQueen’s robotic arms as the objective truth in opposition to the contrived emotional deceit of Harlow. This reading denies the robotic arms their fullest anthropological qualities that are key to establishing the unease we feel. In turn, this would prevent us from experiencing the Uncanny Valley. So, a full Futurist reading cannot work with No. 13; however, it does succeed in allowing us to interpret Harlow as a false temptress, in contrast with the more honest and simple machines. Another helpful comparison to consider might be the Anthropométries (c. 1960) by Yves Klein, in which the artist is choreographing the actions from a safe distance. Klein collaborated with female models, or “living brushes” as he referred to them, and directed them to paint their naked bodies and press themselves against canvasses to create painterly impressions. Klein was criticized for reducing his female collaborators to mere tools, quite literally objectifying them. His absolute control over the models and his detachment from the process seemed to mirror and emphasize the power of the patriarchy over women.