“Playtime”: exploring the sociopolitical present with British artist Isaac Julien at Platform-L, South Korea

British artist Isaac Julien holds first exhibition in South Korea.

Art Radar takes a look at acclaimed British artist Isaac Julien’s new exhibition at Platform-L in South Korea, which runs until 30 April 2017.

Installation view of Isaac Julien: Playtime, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Courtesy of Platform-L Contemporary Art Center. Photo credit Jinho Kim.

Isaac Julien, “Playtime”, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo: Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Playtime for post-truth times

“Playtime” is the first major exhibition of Isaac Julien’s work in South Korea. The artist has been exploring themes such as capitalism, labour, the AIDS crisis, poetry and art market since the 1980s. His work engages with post-colonialism, migration and diaspora, racism and minor gender identities as thematic approach. The exhibition asks: what does art or the politics of art mean in this new era, the so-called post-truth era? The show deals with not only the reorganisation of world powers after the arrival of the Trump government, but also seeks to urge reform to the current political and social conditions in South Korea. The opening of the exhibition thus acquires a distinct meaning in the local context.

Isaac Julien, 'Playtime', 2014. Film stills. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Isaac Julien, ‘Playtime’, 2014, film still. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Isaac Julien in South Korea

The exhibition consists of three works, including Playtime (2014) functioning as the major axis to the constellation paired to Kapital (2013) and finally The Leopard (2007), all of which render historic traumas into a choreography playing on the border of life and death. Playtime, realised as a seven-channel installation, is an epitome of the artist’s mastery of immersive poetics or expanded montage, and the methods of sound design. The work is an aesthetical analysis in the 21st century of Karl Marx’s Capital and takes up the challenge of giving visual form to the immaterial flow of capital. The work has been installed in the live hall at Platform-L.

Installation view of Isaac Julien:" Playtime", Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo credit Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Isaac Julien, “Playtime”, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo: Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Isaac Julien, 'Playtime', 2014. Film stills. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Isaac Julien, ‘Playtime’, 2014, film still. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

From Looking for Langston (1989) to Playtime (2014)

Julien came to prominence in the film world with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston, gaining a cult following with this poetic exploration of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. During the past two decades he has made work largely, though not exclusively, for galleries and museums, using multi-screen installations to express fractured narratives exploring memory and desire.

Installation view of Isaac Julien:" Playtime", Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo credit Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Isaac Julien, “Playtime”, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo: Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Since then Julien has moved into “expanded cinema”, often creating multi-screen installations. Julien’s critically-acclaimed nine-screen film installation Ten Thousand Waves (2010) explored China’s ancient past and rapidly transforming present through a series of interlocking narratives. The work stars, among others, Maggie Cheung, the legendary siren of Chinese cinema, and was filmed on location in the remote Guangxi province and at the famous Shanghai Film Studios and various other sites around Shanghai. Ten Thousand Waves combines fact, fiction and film essay genres against a background of Chinese history, legend and landscape to create a meditation on global human migrations. Through formal experimentation and a series of unique collaborations, Julien seeks to engage with Chinese culture through contemporary events, ancient myths and artistic practice.

Isaac Julien, 'Playtime', 2014. Film stills. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Isaac Julien, ‘Playtime’, 2014, film still. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

The original inspiration for Ten Thousand Waves was the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004, in which 23 Chinese cockle-pickers died. In response to this event, Julien commissioned the poet Wang Ping to come to England and write Small Boats, a poem that is recited in the work. In the successive years, Julien has spent time in China slowly coming to understand the country and its people’s perspectives and developing the relationships that have enabled him to undertake this rich and multifaceted work.

Isaac Julien, 'Playtime', 2014. Film stills. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Isaac Julien, ‘Playtime’, 2014, film still. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center and the artist.

Installation view of Isaac Julien:" Playtime", Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo credit Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Isaac Julien, “Playtime”, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2017. Photo: Jinho Kim. Image courtesy Platform-L Contemporary Art Center.

Julien began work on Playtime in 2013. The work resulted in the current seven-screen installation that explores the dramatic and nuanced subject of financial capital. Starring an international roster of actors including Maggie Cheung, Mercedes Cabral and James Franco, Playtime comprises three chapters set across three cities defined by their relationship to capital: London, a city transformed by the deregulation of banks; Reykjavik, where the 2008 crisis began; and Dubai, one of the Middle East’s burgeoning financial markets. Part documentary and part fiction, the work interconnects major figures in the world of art and finance with the real stories of those deeply affected by the crisis and the global flow of capital.

Rebecca Close

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Related Topics: European artistsphotographyfilmvideotimehistorical artvideomuseum showfilmmigrationmemory, colonialism, events in Seoul

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