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Isaac Julien, Ten Thousand Waves | MoMA

Artist Isaac Julien discusses his work, Ten Thousand Waves, and its installation. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Whenever you have television screens or moving pictures of some kind in a gallery I find that fascinating. I am not a particularly huge fan of this sort of art, but what is interesting is that since the images are moving...no two people can ever view this in exactly the same way. Even if two people were to look at each image and watch all of the footage in it's entirety...your eye would still begin in different places because the focal points would be infinitely transitioning...

    I gather this is something that could be said for all of art though in terms of when two people walk up to a work of art and see it differently?
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Lina Li
    who is talking in this video?
    (0 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Another question! How is this sort of installation different from modern independent and exploratory film making? What makes one thing art and another film, or music for that matter?
    (1 vote)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Daniel Rigal
      It is all art, but I think the specific question here is what is the difference between a film and an installation using film?
      I think the difference is that this film was made to be shown in this specific way, as part of the installation, with multiple screens. It would not necessarily work as a single film shown on a single screen and even if it did it would be a quite different experience. (In this case I think it might work, at least to some degree, but quite often film and video used in installations would be close to unwatchable if you approached it like a conventional film looking for structure and narrative.)
      So, a film is something you could imagine being shown in cinemas, or put on TV or YouTube, and that would be to show the artwork itself, just as much as seeing it in a gallery screening would. The installation is the film plus the way it is shown. It might not be exactly the same if it was moved to a different art gallery, due to the different shaped rooms, but it would need multiple screens arranged in a similar way to create the same effect to be the same artwork.
      An installation can be thought of as like sculpture. You move around it and that affects what you see and hear. It is not about an audience facing in the same direction at the a screen and experiencing more or less the same thing together.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

- It's a work that is very much about entering into an immersive environment. We try to make each installation very unique to the actual space it's installed. In the mountain atrium, it's that you're able to work with the verticallity for the first time of the work. Using nine screens where you're able to sort of move between screens, or view them from different angles. We'll try to encapsulate this idea of movement within the work, but also how you view the work. What inspiration for Ten Thousand Waves begins in more conveying. In 2004, when 23 chinese cocal shell pickers from the Fujian province from China died when they were trying to pick for cocal shells in the north of England, I felt very moved by the tragedy because they had come from such a far distance to meet this kind of horrid end, and I thought it would be very interesting to try to view this tragedy not from the current European point of view, but (mumbling) from a Chinese point of view. And it took us about three years to discover the Mazu fables. Mazu is the sea goddess from the Fujian province where the Chinese cocal shell pickers originated from. And one of the things that I thought that would be very interesting, so try to view this from Mazu's point of view, and in bringing the lost souls back to China, so to speak, through Mazu's journey, which spans over, I would say, 400 years of Chinese history, begins in modern day, then we go to 30s Shanghai, and then we end up in the Ming period in 15th century China. We shot in the Guangji province in China. Of course, having Maggie Cheung play Mazu was sort of very important, and one of the things, I think, in relationship to making it work, was the idea of trying to use (mumbling) devices, ways of trying to alert the audience that they're watching a film. For example, in the green screen section, when you foreground it, it doesn't necessarily take away let's say, the magic of those scenes, in the same way that there's labor into people picking cocal shells or there's labor into making images, and you can't make images without that labor. One of the important collaborations was working with different composers. Jah Wobble has a band called the Chinese Dub Orchestra, so that's this marriage between east and west in his work. And then, of course, there's the work that was done by the sound designer, Mukul Patel, and also Adam Finch who is the multiple screen editor for my works. And then the 9.2 surround sound dubbing that we made for the work was very unique. We're trying to make a piece of work that would have sound become more sculptural in the space, also become foregrounded as well as the image. And, in a way, when you make a multiple screen work, you're able to make those kind of decisions in a much more, sort of, creative manner. There are all of these sort of aesthetic quests that we wanted to sort of pursue and make in the work to make it a unique experience.