Isaac Julien’s celebrated films and multi-channel video installations bridge documentary cinema and the fine arts, and bring critical analysis to issues of ethnicity, sexuality and class.
Ten Thousand Waves (2010) had its world premiere at the 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010), in the Mould Loft on the upper level of Cockatoo Island. In this major work, Julien returned once more to consideration of diaspora and globalisation and examines from a poetic and artistic standpoint the motivations of need and desire that drive people to undertake perilous journeys to achieve a better life. Ten Thousand Waves is inspired by the tragic deaths of over 20 Chinese illegal migrant workers who drowned in England in 2004 while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay. By tracing the workers back to their origins, culture and history, Julien’s nine-screen installation uses the image of water – the sandy waters of Lancashire, the Yangtze River and the Shanghai Bund – as a symbol of danger, trade, modernity, mystery and economic power. A ghostly protagonist leads the viewer through a story that entwines legend with modern China.