EYE presents Expanded Cinema. Isaac Julien, Fiona Tan, Yang Fudong

The exhibition Expanded Cinema: Isaac Julien, Fiona Tan, Yang Fudong, iopen September 28–December 2, 2012,brings together three artists, all of whom use proven cinematic means, such as professional actors (Maggie Cheung, Johan Leysen), beautifully lit sets, stylish camerawork, and sophisticated montage, without ultimately making a ‘regular’ feature film.

Isaac Julien, Yishan Island, Voyage (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Fiona Tan, Saint Sebastian, 2001. Courtesy of the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London; Yang Fudong, The Fifth Night, 2010. Courtesy of the artists and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York.

Isaac Julien, Fiona Tan, and Yang Fudong demonstrate that film today is more than the endless stream of films that reach us via cinema or television. Aided by the digital revolution, they present their film in an architectural manner in the space. The story, image, or story fragment is spread across several screens and makes watching film a more active experience.

The term Expanded Cinema was originally coined for developments in avant-garde film in the sixties and seventies. Gene Youngblood used it in 1970 in his criticism of mainstream cinema and as part of a utopian vision in which expanded cinema would be the medium capable of uniting art and life. In his vision the viewer would have to make a series of adjustments to the simultaneous images and sounds presented. The works shown in EYE also reflect the complexity of the image matrix of our everyday life.

Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves is a nine-screen installation from 2010. It is based on a tragic event in Morecambe Bay, England in 2004. Twenty-three illegal Chinese economic migrants drowned while picking shellfish in the bay, due to their unfamiliarity with the area’s coastline. Julien links this tragic event to a sixteenth-century Chinese fable in which the goddess Mazu (played by Chinese superstar Maggie Cheung) saves fishermen in distress by leading them to the mythical island Yishan. Julien’s combination of events from today’s hard reality and a sixteenth-century Chinese fable is in keeping with his interdisciplinary, cross-border method. In his film installations he weaves together dance, music, poetry, film, documentary, painting, reality, and fiction. It is Julien’s aesthetic and artistic translation of the term ‘Créolité’: allowing new ideas and spaces to develop through movement between different geographical places, between local and global, and between past and present.

Fiona Tan’s Saint Sebastian from 2001 shows a ‘Coming of Age Day’ ritual in Kyoto, Japan. On this day, hundreds of girls dressed in traditional kimono give a presentation of Japanese archery: a martial art that requires supreme control of body and mind. The event marks the ritual transition from adolescence to adulthood. In A Lapse of Memory from 2007, Tan leaves the narrative deliberately open. There’s not one, but many stories, many fragments. The film circles in endless repetition on the screen. No beginning, no end. Tan combines historical circumstances with fictional characters in a new reality, which is so hybrid and open that it’s clear the world cannot be viewed from a single perspective.

Yang Fudong’s The Fifth Night (2010) comprises a mise-en-scène, filmed simultaneously from seven different camera angles. Each image, filmed in one long camera movement, lasts precisely 10 minutes, 37 seconds; the length of a 35mm film reel. During filming, Yang Fudong used 35mm cameras with different lenses and depth effects, with which he shows the tiniest details of events and his characters’ facial expressions.

Although The Fifth Night seems apparently simple, it is based on a complex filming schedule. The film does not dictate the order in which to view it. It can be read from left to right, or the reverse. The film was shot in the famous Shanghai Film Studio. The studio’s film decors served as the set for The Fifth Night. The setting initially appears Chinese, but refers to the China under Western rule, the Shanghai of the European concessions. For the Chinese viewer it has a clear European slant. Yang deliberately contrasts the theatrical time of the film with that of the actual time of the filming process. The Fifth Night depicts present-day reality through the lens of history.

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