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MoMA presents Isaac Julien's acclaimed film installation Ten Thousand Waves
Isaac Julien. Ten Thousand Waves. 2010. Installation view, Bass Museum of Art, Miami. Nine-screen installation, 35mm film transferred to High Definition 9.2 surround sound, 49’ 41”. Courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photograph: Peter Haroldt.
NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art presents renowned artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves (2010), which was acquired by the Museum in 2012. The immersive installation, in a new configuration designed to fill the Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, is on view from November 25, 2013, through February 17, 2014. The original inspiration for this 50-minute moving image installation, which is projected onto nine double-sided screens, was the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004, in which 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned on a flooded sandbank off the coast of northwest England. Isaac Julien: Ten Thousand Waves is organized by Sabine Breitwieser, former Chief Curator (until January 31, 2013), with Martin Hartung, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art, MoMA.

Ten Thousand Waves premiered at the 2010 Sydney Biennial and has since been exhibited internationally to wide acclaim. Its installation at MoMA is one of the most ambitious presentations of Ten Thousand Waves to date, and is the first to include screens hung at multiple levels. Measuring up to 23 feet wide, the screens are the largest ever to be hung in an exhibition at MoMA. Because the MoMA presentation is intended to be viewed not only from ground level in the Marron Atrium, but also from the upper floors that look down on the space, the configuration required the use of cutting-edge audio-visual and sound technologies. Much of Julien’s work reflects on ideas of migration, and with this installation he intentionally requires multiple viewing perspectives, encouraging visitors’ movement through the work.

On February 25, 2004, 23 Chinese migrant workers, employed as cockle pickers, were caught at night by a fast high tide and drowned in Morecambe Bay. Ten Thousand Waves incorporates archival footage recorded by a police helicopter on that night showing the rescue of one survivor from a sandbank in the rising tide, accompanied by audio recordings of the distress calls. With this tragedy at the center of the work, Julien poetically interweaves images of contemporary Chinese culture with its ancient myths—including the fable of the goddess Mazu (portrayed in the piece by Maggie Cheung), which comes from the Fujian Province, from whence the Morecambe Bay workers originated.

In one section of the work, titled "Tale of Yishan Island," Julien recounts the story of 16th-century fishermen lost and imperiled at sea. Central to the legend is the sea goddess figure who leads the fishermen to safety. Julien creates a cinematic passage between eras and incidents, cutting between the police helicopter footage of Morecambe Bay and Mazu’s gaze as she hovers protectively (via special effects) over the fishermen’s journey.

In a preceding section, shot at the Shanghai Film Studios, actress Zhao Tao takes part in a reenactment of the classic 1930s Chinese film The Goddess, assuming the starring role originally played by Ruan Ling-yu. Here Julien fuses two tragic stories: one of the film’s heroine, a mother who becomes a prostitute to support her son; the other of Ruan herself, the biggest star of Chinese cinema in the early 1930s, who committed suicide in 1935.

In addition to Cheung and Zhao, collaborators on Ten Thousand Waves include calligrapher Gong Fagen, film and video artist Yang Fudong, cinematographer Zhao Xiaoshi, and poet Wang Ping, from whom Julien commissioned “Small Boats,” a poem that is recited in the film. The film is set on the streets of both modern and old Shanghai, and includes music and sounds that fuse Eastern and Western traditions. The installation’s sound structure is as immersive as its sequenced images, with contributions from, among others, London-based musician Jah Wobble and the Chinese Dub Orchestra, and an original score by Spanish contemporary classical composer Maria de Alvear.

Isaac Julien (b. 1960) is an internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker based in London whose work incorporates different artistic disciplines, drawing from and commenting on film, dance, photography, music, theater, painting, and sculpture, and uniting them to create a unique poetic visual language in audiovisual film installations. He came to prominence with his 1989 dramadocumentary Looking for Langston, a poetic exploration of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. His 1991 film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Informed by his film background, Julien’s gallery installations form fractured narratives that reflect critical thinking about race, globalization, and representation.

Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his film installations The Long Road to (1999) and Vagabondia (2000). His acclaimed five-screen installation WESTERN UNION: small boats (2007) , Madrid; and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Warsaw; and is also in the Museum Brandhorst collection in Munich. In 2008 MoMA coproduced Julien’s and Tilda Swinton's collaborative film project Derek (2008), a filmic biography of the late British filmmaker Derek Jarman, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the same year. Ten Thousand Waves (2010) has been on display in cities in more than 15 countries so far, including Shanghai, Sydney, Madrid, Helsinki, Sao Paolo, Gwangju (Korea), Gothenburg, Moscow, New York, Miami, and London.

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