The story behind Isaac Julien: Refuge, now showing at Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery, reads like the plot of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel; where the main protagonist travels the world, exploring natural wonders, architectural marvels and historical texts in search of truth and meaning.
Known for his pioneering multichannel videography, Julien transports audiences into extravagant dreamscapes, from remote Icelandic caves, to baroque Italian Palazzos and the pristine Sicilian coastline, weaving through convergent themes of displacement, migration and climate change and creating a rich tapestry which oozes visual luxury and sensuality.
Stones Against Diamonds is multi-channel video installation which pays homage to Julien's decade long fascination with the art and life of Brazil's most important female architect, Lina Bo Bardi. Bo Bardi penned a now infamous letter to her husband in which she spoke of her preference for natural elements and 'rough cut stones' over diamonds.
Julien explained, "The more I researched Lina Bo Bardi the more I became more fascinated by her life and her work, her buildings, her sonographies for theatre, her exhibition, jewellery and furniture design, the list goes on. She's an architect that wasn't really recognised the way that she should've been. I'm a real fan of hers and I'm interested in exposing her work to a younger generation."
"Stones Against Diamonds is sort of like an unconscious dream reverie; a meditation of Lina Bo Bardi's works juxtaposed with the issue of global warming and the fact that the most fragile of objects can be the most beautiful. These caves exist because of global warming and the ice is literally melting around you, you can hear the cracks. So it's literally a representation of the effects of global warming and what's happening to our planet."
Stones Against Diamonds ultimately draws the viewer to a sobering conclusion: why is it that we place so much value on the 'diamond' - which has become a symbol of wealth, accomplishment and luxury - yet we turn a blind eye to the destruction of the earth's natural, fragile and intrinsically beautiful elements? The fact it is filmed in an Icelandic cave, the very structures of which were melting before Julien's eyes as he filmed the work, adds another poignant layer to this magical and deeply affecting installation.
The Leopard is a video work investigating the migration and displacement of north African and Asian populations to southern Italy. Filmed in 2007, this prophetic work predates Europe's current migration issues by almost a decade. Choreographed by Russell Maliphant, Julien uses dance and movement to rearticulate the treacherous journeys of thousands of African and Asian 'clandestines' sailing thousands of miles in small fishing boats, many not making it to the other side.
Julien elaborated, "At the time the work was really looking at this question of the dangers of people crossing the channel from north Africa to Sicily and how it was transforming the cultural makeup of southern Italy. It's interesting that Italy was at the forefront of this migration crisis, serving as a warning of what was to come, but the world ignored it."
"I think we've become quite numb and bored of these issues in the media, and choreography can help breathe life and emotion into these issues and bring them to the forefront of our minds." Visually powerful, intellectually stimulating and deeply moving, Julien's work taps into the hinterland of our consciences, using his masterful and immersive video and photography to prompt us of the inconvenient truths and struggles caused and experienced by humankind. A magical, beguiling and heartening experience.
Isaac Julien: Refuge is showing at Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery, Paddington from October 21 until November 19, 2016