SFAI's debut show at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture contains three outstanding film installations. By Peter Lawrence Kane
Since it appears we're truly, seriously headed for a new Gilded Age courtesy of the GOP's tax scam, it feels perversely appropriate that Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) is the new home of a mostly cinematic exhibit by a poetically damning British artist and filmmaker. "Isaac Julien: Playtime" consists mainly of three pieces, all of them on at least one screen, and all of them interrogations at the complex eddies and flows of global finance. A partnership with the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), it's the inaugural show at SFAI's new Gray Box Theater on one of FMCAC's pavilions.
If that sounds like a hastily mimeographed flyer encouraging you to sit outside the Federal Reserve in ashes and sackcloth while getting harangued, it isn't. Julien's work is, on the whole, moodily beautiful. In 2010's Better Life (Ten Thousand Waves), he takes modern Shanghai as a jumping-off point for a query into the alienation plaguing a country that leapt into incredibly wealth on an abbreviated timescale. An angelic figure - the ancient goddess Mazu, protectress of sailors - floats above the skyline (and, in some meta shots, against a studio greenscreen). Below, earthly figures find themselves spiritually adrift in high-rises and on public transit - or worse, as migrants trapped in quicksand and dying of hypothermia in the cold waters of England's Morecambe Bay, where some 22 Chinese nationals perished in 2004 while picking cockles for illegally low wages.
Image ©/courtesy Isaac Julien