Isaac Julien: Paradise Omeros and Baltimore
"Few artists have cut as impressive a swathe between structural and narrative film as the British artist, Isaac Julien. His film installations effortlessly alternate between the specific and the elliptical, the documentary and disorienting visual effects, creating a dazzling crisscrossing path that seems appropriate to the theme of doubled otherness... that is central to his work."
Roberta Smith, The New York Times, July 2003
Victoria Miro Gallery is delighted to present two film installations, Baltimore and Paradise Omeros, and related photographic works by internationally renowned artist, Isaac Julien. Although very different bodies of work, Baltimore and Paradise Omeros both use the triple image format Julien has been working with since 1996 to explore the aesthetic, social and psychic aspects of space, location and social geography.
Paradise Omeros was much celebrated at last year's Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany and has its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Festival this summer. The installation delves into the fantasies and feelings of "creoleness" - the mixed language, the hybrid mental states and the territorial transpositions that arise when one lives in multiple cultures. Using the recurrent imagery of the sea, the film sweeps the viewer into a poetic meditation on the ebb and flow of self and stranger, love and hate, war and peace, xenophobe and xenophile. Paradise Omeros, is set in London in the 60s and on the Caribbean island of St Lucia today and is loosely based on some of Derek Walcott's poems from Omeros. The Nobel prize winning poet Derek Walcott and the musician and composer Paul Gladstone Reid collaborated with Julien on the text and score for the film. Paradise Omeros is co-scripted by Isaac Julien and Grischa Duncker.
By contrast, Baltimore, Julien's most recent work, is rich in urban imagery, and like Julien's earlier pieces Vagabondia and Three, uses museums as a key location and theme. Inspired by blaxploitation movies while he was filming his recent acclaimed documentary Baadasssss Cinema, Julien appropriates the styles, gestures, language and iconography of the genre to create a work that defies easy categorization. Starring veteran black actor and director Melvin Van Peebles, Baltimore was designed in part as homage to Van Peebles' movies. It unites three Baltimore institutions - The Walters Art Museum, the Contemporary Museum and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum - with blaxploitation cinema, the tough talking, hard-living symbol of black empowerment that Van Peebles helped usher in with his 1971 movie "Sweet, Sweetback's Baadasssss Song". Baltimore is ironic and funky, nostalgic and futuristic, rough and fine. It is characterized by oscillation and an insistent formal play with linear perspective which also pays homage to Piero della Francesca and more particularly, a painting of unknown authorship, c.1500 known as "View of an Ideal City" which features in the collection of the Walters Art Museum.
Finally, the exhibition includes a series of large-scale photographs taken at the time of filming. They are not film stills but shot with a medium format camera and printed before the editing of the films. Some act almost like preparatory sketches in which formal ideas are worked out using the same triptych format. Others are stand alone "portraits" of the protagonists which function in a distinctly different way from the films.