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Isaac Julien
Blaxploitation: From Wax to Pixel, From TV to Gallery

Baltimore (2003) continues and extends the approach, but this time the iconography that strays into the museum comes from cinema, the 'blaxploitation' cinema of the 1970s to be precise. Pioneering director Melvin Van Peebles and a Pam Greer lookalike (in full 'Foxy Brown' finery) become living exhibits of cinema at large in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Julien's film is partly a meditation on black heroism and cultural achievement whose icons are mummified in one museum (Van Peebles comes face-to-face with his own waxen effigy) and which then, in a literal and figurative leap of the imagination, are bought up to date. 'Blaxploitation' becomes 'Matrixploitation' as Julien's 21st Century Foxy Brown becomes airborne in a thoroughly unexpected piece of special effects trickery. In his documentary on the 'Blaxploitation' films Badassss Cinema (2002), the protagonists of the movies are discussed as having been seen as 'superheroes', gods in pop-culture clothing. Baltimore updates the idea, taking it to its logical present-day conclusion; on the journey from wax to celluloid to pixels, a whole history of representation lies therein. Something needs to be said here about Julien's approach in overlapping a TV project such as Badassss Cinema with a gallery-film project like Baltimore. The material overlaps in both works in terms of subject, participants and soundtrack, but whereas Badassss is a conventional television documentary - part revisionist history, part chronicle - Baltimore imagines the future of this cinematic past. Such an approach can be seen to continue a practice which has been around since the days of 1970s 'video-art' when artists would make installations and single-screen work reprising and magnifying motifs across the two formats. True to his hybrid calling, Julien has extended this range, overlapping a TV project with a film-installation (something he also did with the Frantz Fanon project, producing both a documentary essay and an installation work), the circuit between them being provided by the iconography which circulates and 'strays' from the world of film to the world of art and back again.

Installation shot of Baltimore by Isaac Julien, 2003
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