Isaac Julien (b. 1960, lives and works in London) is a British artist and filmmaker whose work incorporates different artistic disciplines, drawing from and commenting on film, dance, photography, music, theater, painting, and sculpture. Julien unites these disciplines to create the uniquely poetic, aesthetic language of his audiovisual film installations. His 1991 film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his films The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999) and Vagabondia (2000). His multiple screen installation WESTERN UNION: small boats (2007) has been shown at Metro Pictures (New York), Galería Helga de Alvear (Madrid), and Centre for Contemporary Arts (Warsaw); it is also in the collection of Museum Brandhorst in Munich. In 2008 Julien collaborated with Tilda Swinton on a biopic about Derek Jarman simply entitled Derek, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival that same year.
Isaac Julien’s "WESTERN UNION: small boats" is installed on three screens in the unfinished Théâtre Royal building in Marrakech. This work is the third in a trilogy of audiovisual installations dealing with migration and globalization. The video installation creates a space where viewers confront images that expose contrasts within the natural and constructed environment in a critique of borders as spaces of limitation imposed by man.
WESTERN UNION: small boats forms the final installment of Julien’s compelling trilogy of audiovisual film installations which also includes True North (2004) and Fantôme Afrique (2005). The works explore the impact of location – both cultural and physical – to resounding effect through a juxtaposition of opposing global regions.
Julien’s new work, WESTERN UNION: small boats concerns journeys made across the seas of the Mediterranean. The journeys and stories of so-called “clandestines” who leave Libya, escaping wars and famines. They can be seen as economic migrant workers, along with certain Europeans – Angels in Walter Benjamin’s terms – who bear witness to modernity’s failed hopes and dreams, and who now travel across oceanic spaces some never to arrive or return.
Expanding the themes of voyages, excursions and expeditions, WESTERN UNION: small boats is being produced at a time when advances in global telecommunications and new technologies are continually celebrated. One of the major questions arising from this development is the part individuals may play in this flow of information. Questions surrounding the circulation of human lives, the movements of bodies, and their personal stories, are timely when immigration policies generate controversy on a daily basis, and the relationships between nations are the source of much debate.