Isaac Julien is today one of the most internationally celebrated artist–filmmakers working with multiple-channel video installations. His practice is concerned with the transposition of film to spatialised installation, and he uses film and projection technologies to create new vocabularies for experiencing the moving image, combining multiple narratives and perspectives across an arrangement of screens. Julien explores themes of overlapping cultural histories, movements of people and cultural interpretation in works such as True North 2004 and Fantôme Afrique 2005.
WESTERN UNION: Small Boats 2007 recreates the fatal journey across the Mediterranean, from North Africa to the Southern coast of Sicily, by African and Asian ‘clandestines’. This historic trade route is now used by émigrés escaping economic hardship and human rights abuses, who set off in small boats, often never to arrive. In the work, Julien also refers to Luchino Visconti’s cinematic epic Il gattopardo (The Leopard) 1963 — a meditation on relationships to land amid a changing social order. The locations of Visconti’s film are revisited in WESTERN UNION: Small Boats; the seaside village of Agrigento and the baroque interiors of the Palazzo Gangi are juxtaposed with the deadly sea voyage. The restricted movements of the would-be migrants are evoked in sequences of contemporary dance choreographed by Russell Maliphant.