From Isaac Julien’s political, poetic and utterly gorgeous show at Tate Britain to the equally powerful Carrie Mae Weems survey at the Barbican, Tomás Saraceno spiders and other species awakening us to our connection to nature at the Serpentine Galleries in conversation with Lina Ghotmeh’s delicate timber Serpentine Pavilion, and Leonardo Drew’s explosive installation at Yorkshire Sculpture Park Chapel, there’s been no shortage of excellent art and design in London and beyond this summer season.
‘Isaac Julien: What freedom is to me’ at Tate Britain is a powerful and poetic, and beautifully designed exhibition that reveals a career as compelling today as it was forty years ago, when the British artist began showing his politically charged films and video art installations.
Tate curators Isabella Maidment and Nathan Ladd worked closely with the artist and his long-term friend the architect David Adjaye to imagine and design this first UK retrospective of Julien.
We enter the exhibition wrapped around in large screens showing Julien’s latest film, ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ (2022), and from a clearing of sorts are then tasked to choose our own path, directed by sound, colour and scent, as a narrative unfolds based on that decision.
The curators have successfully designed an exhibition experience for the visitor that reflects Julien’s fascination with image, sound, space, movement. Maidment calls them sonic tapestries that draw you through the exhibition as it unfolds.
She notes a passage from ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ that illustrates the show so poignantly. The line is narrated the character playing Alain Locke — the writer and cultural critic, and philosophical architect of the Harlem Renaissance:
‘As we mature as artists in the mythical diasporic dream space, the culture of infinite possibility is ready to receive us. This is artistic freedom as pure and as unsullied as the falling snow.’
On until August 20 at Tate Britain.
All images: Installation view, ‘Once Again… (Statues Never Die)’ Tate Britain, 2023. © Isaac Julien, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro
Fiona Banner’s work for Tate Britain’s 2010 Duveens Commission plays on situation and scale – neo-classical gallery space strikingly juxtaposed with two decommissioned fighter jets.
Harrier is streamlined avian form playing martyr to deadly function – a trussed trophy reworked with hand painted feather markings mimicking its namesake; Jaguar lies upturned on the floor like a toy cast aside by its young owner – a polished mirror surface tying the audience to their own reactions.
Banner’s choice of subject matter shows a clear lineage with earlier works, sharing their topicality in questioning our attitudes toward war. But that much is obvious. Requiring little imagination from its audience, such subtle conceits in her treatment of these carcasses do little to divert the viewer’s attentions away from their shear presence, and it is within this context where she succeeds.
Perhaps they have more in common with those iconic works by Koons or Hirst; derided by many but lauded by the art market. And there lies the rub – the incongruity of setting is integral to them being definable as ‘art’ – remove them from the space, as they inevitably will be, and their worth might just, well, fly away. A brutal yet seductive spectacle well worth seeing.
Guest blogger Nicholas Smith
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