Isaac Julien, True North Series, 2004. Triptych of digital prints on Epson Premium Photo Glossy, 100 x 100 cm each. Courtesy of the artist.

The Strand previews the ROM’s upcoming exhibit

On Thursday, January 19th, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) hosted a media preview of Isaac Julien: Other Destinies. This exclusive viewing was presented to a select group of OCAD students, student journalists, and figures in creative industries. It was comprised of two film installations: WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (2007) and True North (2004).

Upon entering a secluded room on the fourth floor of the ROM, invitees were greeted by a long table with light refreshments and an array of pastries. At the head of the room, stood a podium and three rows of seats facing the stand for eager spectators and journalists.

Josh Basseches—New Director and CEO of the ROM—gave a brief introduction of Isaac Julien and his work, mentioning that Julien’s film installations were included in the ROM’s Contemporary Culture collection. Furthermore, Basseches stated that in the coming years, the ROM would be working towards introducing projects relevant to themes of migration and diaspora presented in Isaac Julien: Other Destinies.

Following Basseches’s introductory remarks, OCAD University President, Sara Diamond, also praised Isaac Julien and his artistic vision. She announced that Isaac Julien is the Artist-in-Residence at OCAD University and that a select group of students will soon have the opportunity to work closely with him.

Thereafter, Julien stood on the podium and explained the thematic significance of Isaac Julien: Other Destinies, and its two film installations. The theme of both installations, Julien began, is expeditions in time and the retracing of history; the forgotten history of individuals who were not given credit where credit was due. Julien went on to explain that this neglected interval in Western history is what True North (2004)  aims, in particular, to explore—retracing history, but also memorializing the achievement of a historical figure who was not acknowledged in the mainstream historical narrative. Julien concluded by thanking the audience for attending the media preview.

Guests were led out of the private room on the fourth floor and were directed to the third level, where the screenings were taking place. Near the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium, spectators were guided to a secluded area that divided into two separate screening rooms: one for WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (2007) and the other for True North (2004). Before entering either one of the screening rooms, spectators were greeted with a short yet detailed biographical description of the artist as well as an abstract account of Isaac Julien: Other Destinies.

Both film installations were featured on three large flat screen TVs set up side by side, which offered a panoramic screening experience. WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (2007) was visually stimulating. It captivated the viewers with the sensuality of the waves caressing the boats and the vibrant colours of neglected pieces of clothing, floating in time with the gentle tides by the shoreline. The change in scenery from the lull of the open waters and sleeping men in small boats to a grand and extravagant palace with unrestrained movements of bodies expressing freedom, drew the audience’s attention towards the film’s aesthetic.

Similarly, True North (2004) was aesthetically pleasing. However, the main difference between WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (2007) and True North (2004) was in the auditory experience. The narrator’s voice in this film installation portrayed emotions of awe, fear, and sadness. While the aesthetics of the film were alluring, the narrator’s deliverance of the lines “to freeze as you walk or to drop in starvation” and “death can come in a hundred directions” truly entranced the audience, demanding them to feel the psychological distress and dejection of the figure in the film.

The screening of Isaac Julien: Other Destinies was remarkable and incredibly moving. Both installations captured the viewers’ attention, and demanded complete focus to the artistic techniques employed in each film. Overall, the preview was a sensual and an inspiring experience, leaving the audience wanting more.