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’