London-based Isaac Julien is a world-renowned visual artist and photographer with work appearing in major international collections including MOMA, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, and the Louis Vuitton Art Foundation. He is a faculty member at the Whitney Museum of American Arts, a Professor of Media Art at Staatliche Hochschule fur Gestaltung Karlsruhe, Germany, and now, he is one of the six commissioned artist for Rolls-Royce for 2015. Debuting earlier this year, Julien’s video installation project Stones Against Diamonds appeared at the Palazzo Malipiero-Barnabò at the 56th Venice Biennale, and has now made its way into a beautiful location in Miami—The Jewel Box.
On Monday afternoon, kicking off Art Basel Miami Beach week in partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation, Julien debuted the videos, and the Head of Corporate Communications for North America, Gerry Spahn, welcomed guests. “I want to welcome everyone here tonight to this wonderful event,” said Spahn. “What’s incredible is this started as five screens, and grew to 10 screens at Basel, and, well, here in America, we have to do things just a little bit bigger, so we’re taking it to fifteen screens to show the absolute, incredible breadth of awesomeness that has been captured on film.”
Filmed by a team of 50 people in Breidamerkurjokull, the largest glacier in Europe, and in Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lake in southeast Iceland, the videos act to translate a passage of writing by Brazilian architect, curator, writer, and designer Lina Bo Bardi, as she divulges her love for semi-precious stones, opposed to diamonds, and for easels, too. Bardi had the idea that easels remove bi-dimensional artworks from walls, and connect the interior and exterior. In the videos by Julien, it is easy to see that the interior and exterior mesh as one, and the glass easels—originally designed for Museu de Arte de São Paulo—elegantly demonstrate that.
“I’ve been filming in Iceland over the last 10 years, and my first work I made was called True North in 2004, which starred Vanessa Myrie, retracing Matthew Henson‘s steps—he was a black explorer that went to the North Pole with Robert Peary,” said Julien. “He was African American, and was, in a way, treated in the history books like the man servant of Peary, but actually, they pretty much did the expedition together. Vanessa was really retracing his steps and telling his story from his point of view. That was my first exploration into the arctic. I’ve always had this sort of existential image and representation of a black subject in the white space,” the artist continued, speaking with us in front of the large glass panels.
“Then, in 2014, I filmed in Iceland again, and that was for Playtime. So when I was making this work, I inquired about when there was going to be an ice cave available, and one of the people I worked with told me there was one available,” said Julien. “I’ve been wanting to film in an ice cave for over 10 years. At the same time, Rolls-Royce was interested in commissioning me to make a work, and so what I did was bring these three elements together—Lina Bo Bardi, the ice cave, and working with Vanessa Myrie.”
Why was he so interested in filming in an ice cave? “Because in a way, it’s a little bit like Plato’s cave where basically the cave is kind of where man first made art. And in a sense, having the opportunity to re-site the body’s key architectural iconic motifs in a cave, and to have someone like Vanessa Myrie explore that, is creating a kind of dream sequence,” Julien told us.
Myrie invites the audience on a journey through the symbolic landscape of glaciers, rocks, and volcanic sand—all in which glisten like diamonds. “The cave can be read as a metaphor of the unconscious, a place of rich beauty but difficult to access except through the processes of psychoanalysis and artistic reflection,” said Julien.
The 15-screen video installation is on view until Sunday.