Mak­ing waves

I recent­ly vis­it­ed Shang­hai where I saw the Chi­nese pre­miere of ‘Ten Thou­sand Waves,’ at Shang­hART Gallery, a film by UK video artist Isaac Julien. It is a nine-screen instal­la­tion shot on 35mm film and trans­ferred to HD with 9.2 sur­round sound and filmed in Guangxi Province and Shang­hai by top Chi­nese cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Zhao Xiashi. It stars actress­es Mag­gie Che­ung. I men­tion this because more filmmakers/artists, out­side main­stream Hol­ly­wood, are explor­ing dif­fer­ent ways to present their nar­ra­tive pieces to increas­ing visu­al­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed audi­ences. The film ran for about 50 min­utes and dur­ing that time dif­fer­ent images appeared on dif­fer­ent screens, but not all at once. It was hard sit­ting in one place, as you could not see all the screens, so I moved around and amongst them to see as many images as pos­si­ble. My eyes were con­stant­ly flit­ting from screen to screen try­ing to take in all the rich images, as I was hun­gry not to miss any. It was an exhil­a­rat­ing expe­ri­ence, visu­al­ly excit­ing with each screen shout­ing for your atten­tion before the images changed or moved to dif­fer­ent screens. If you find your­self in Lon­don any­time between Octo­ber and Jan­u­ary 2011, go to the Hay­ward Gallery at the South­bank Cen­tre and see it, you won’t be dis­ap­point­ed.

Issac Julien is a British video artist known for his provoca­tive works that explore gay and black iden­ti­ty. Born in London’s East End he stud­ied at Cen­tral St. Mar­tins Col­lege of Arts and burst into the main­stream with 1989’s ‘Look­ing for Langston,’ a moody black and white dra­ma loose­ly based on the life of gay jazz poet Langston Hugh­es dur­ing the Harlem Renais­sance. Nom­i­nat­ed for the Turn­er Prize in 2001, he has pro­duced every­thing from instal­la­tions to doc­u­men­taries and dance shows and con­tin­ues to chal­lenge pre­con­ceived notions of how we con­sume film and art. “All my work has involved an ele­ment of doc­u­men­tary actu­al­i­ty, com­bined with recon­struc­tion and fic­tion­al elab­o­ra­tion.” Julien says. His most recent work has focused on Chi­na with ‘Ten Thou­sand Waves,’ prompt­ed by the drown­ing of Fujianese cock­leshell pick­ers in More­cambe Bay, Lan­cashire in 2004. The film took three years and a Chi­nese cast and crew of 100 to make, and mix­es doc­u­men­tary, fic­tion and poet­ry in three nar­ra­tives, jump­ing between past and present, rur­al and urban, real and imag­ined, to give the view­er a dynam­ic visu­al expe­ri­ence on nine screens of China’s cul­tur­al jour­ney to the present day. Mag­gie Che­ung in Isaac Julien’s ‘Ten Thou­sand Waves’