‘Isaac Julien: What freedom is to me’ at Tate Britain is a politically charged yet stunning exhibition

Installation view, ‘Once Again… (Statues Never Die)’ Tate Britain, 2023. © Isaac Julien, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

‘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.

Read my full review here

All images: Installation view, ‘Once Again… (Statues Never Die)’ Tate Britain, 2023. © Isaac Julien, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Chalayan’s visual adventure

B-Side showcases Hussein Chalayan’s explorations of the body, of movement and of voyeurism – highlighting his fascination with form and process. From pieces represented in new ways, to those making their public debut, the exhibition at Spring Project confirms that Chalayan’s work isn’t just about radical fashion design. Here he is sculptor, filmmaker and animator.

Hussein Chalayan B-Side ©Nicholas Smith

With his inter-disciplinary mindset, the British/Turkish-Cypriot fashion designer is regarded as a leading innovator in visual culture, with a significant body of his art collected internationally.

Speed, displacement and cultural identity all play a role in the two discrete projects on show at B-Side. Chalayan describes Anaesthetics as a ‘film sketch book’ consisting of 11 chapters each based on what the designer refers to as ‘institutions which codify behaviour in order to conceal violence’.

Hussein Chalayan B-Side ©Nicholas Smith

Light boxes isolate imagery from the film. And just as music has always been crucial to his fashion shows, here the designer provides a diverse soundtrack ranging from Bulgarian choir, to songs by Antony and the Johnsons, and Chalayan himself playing the electric guitar.

Chalayan named his spring/summer 2009 collection Inertia. It contained sensational body hugging dresses with dramatic protruding backs created in rubber foam – representing a snapshot of speed and the moment of collision. The moulds are on full display at B-Side.

Hussein Chalayan B-Side ©Nicholas Smith

‘The moulds are really beautiful in their own right,’ he enthuses, adding: ‘but showing them is about process and the in-between moments. I always talk about movement and animation in my work, but this instead is the monumentalisation of the frozen moment. A freeze frame,’ he notes.

B-Side at Spring Projects follows on from an exhibition at the Lisson Gallery where Chalayan created an installation that explores music as a cultural form. The two are a reminder of the his remarkable talent as a leading conceptual artist.

Words and images by guest blogger Nicholas Smith

Hussein Chalayan: B-Side was on show at London’s Spring Projects this autumn.

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