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Open 24/4: 12–17
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Isaac Julien / True North

2007-09-16 to 2007-11-11

The autumn season at Bildmuseet, Bildmuseet opens with the combination of sublime beauty, poetic politics and cinematic magic in Isaac Julien’s video installation True North.

Isaac Julien’s video art combines astute political practice with sensual richness and poetic complexity. Isaac Julien is an artist who has created new forms of cinematic expression and visual storytelling as much as ways of portraying and staging identity politics, new readings of history, or power issues. The True North video installation – visually magnificent in three-channel video and surround sound – takes its inspiration from the story of Matthew Henson (1866-1955), an African-American polar traveller who in fact was probably the first person to the North Pole, via Robert Peary’s legendary expedition in 1909. If this historical revision – to depict Henson in his rightful place in the portrayal of the history of the polar journeys – is a purpose and is expressively evoked in True North, then the story branches out in many directions in a characteristically seamless association of fact and fiction for Julien. For example, it is the black female actress/dancer Vanessa Myrie who is accorded the honour to personify Henson; a gender shift that gives further poignancy to the history. Using locations in Norrbotten and Iceland as the places for the filming, the landscape itself is another core participant — as an arena for man’s quest for new conquests, as a place for the showdown with nature and with his own limitations, and as magnificent visual drama in and of itself.

Isaac Julien, was born in 1960, is an installation artist and filmmaker who lives and works in London and Santa Cruz, California. Julien’s film and video production spans over two decades and includes a total of more than 20 works. The docudrama Looking for Langston, about the poet Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance (1989), was Julien’s breakthrough in the cinema world. Young Soul Rebels from 1991 won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2001, Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize with the movies The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999) and Vagabondia(2000), both made in collaboration with Javier de Frutos. One feature in all of Julien’s productions has been the bringing together of various artistic disciplines – film, dance, music, theatre, painting, sculpture – and his later work has primarily explored and expanded the language and expressive possibilities of video installation. In multi-channel richly composed works, such as Baltimore, Fantôme Afrique and this True North exhibition, he has continued to engage with current political and existential themes along with expanding the grammar and potential of film and video as a medium.

Bildmuseet presented an extensive solo exhibition in 2001 with Isaac Julien’s videos and video installations, – his first in Sweden – in parallel with a screening of his films at the Umeå International Film Festival.

In connection with the screening of True North at Bildmuseet, the symposium Polar Productions, revolving around current contemporary polar research in various disciplines, will be held on 15-16 September. 

The screening of True North at the Bildmuseet has been made possible by financial support from the Swedish Committee for the International Polar Year and is part of the programme for the International Polar Year 2007-2008.