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Isaac Julien
Cinema in the space of Art: Gallery installation work

One of the most pronounced aspects of Julien's work is its interest in examining what might be called the cultural conditions of beauty, particularly the institutionalised space of fine art. The museum, both as a set and a repository of history, has featured across a number of Julien's works. From The Attendant (1992) to the installations Vagabondia (2000) and Baltimore (2003), Julien attempts to 're-vision' the high-art context as well as of the artefacts within it. Having examined media images of black life and interrogated them closely, turning them inside out to reveal the assumptions, misconceptions and idées réçues underlying them, Julien does something similar in the space of the art exhibition. In the museum, Julien folds its own image back onto the screen. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why in his recent work he delights in the possibilities afforded by multiple-screen projection which are themselves multiplied into a vertiginous play of frames (of the context: museum or gallery) within frames (of the screens) within frames (of paintings and mirrors), creating a split-screen kaleidoscope which opens inwards and outwards simultaneously. Vagabondia was filmed in the Sir John Soames Museum in London which houses the dreams of a black conservatrix who hallucinates the hidden histories behind the musuem's objets and portraits. She 'sees' elegant young black women in country-house finery as well as a black 'vagabond' whose lurching, stumbling, half-dancing movements disrupt the settled elegance of the space. Kobena Mercer has written that, in Vagabondia, Three (1999) and The Attendant (1993), "the iconographic elements [are] systematically led astray" and there's more than a suggestive association between the idea of 'vagabondage' and being 'led astray' [Kobena Mercer in Isaac Julien: a Minigraph Ellipsis/Film and Video Umbrella, London 2001.]. In The Attendant, for example, Julien takes a detail from a 19th century academic painting Slaves off the Coast of Africa and restages it as a tableau vivant of inter-racial sadomasochistic sexual desire.

nstallation shot of The Attendant by Isaac Julien, 1993
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