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Migrants' tragedy inspires video

THE Morecambe Bay tragedy in 2004 in which 23 Chinese migrant cockle-pickers were washed out to sea in Britain has inspired an imposing nine-screen video installation called "Ten Thousand Waves" about ancient and modern Chinese values.

The 40-minute-long work by British contemporary artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien blends fact, fiction and film and is being shown in a solo exhibition at ShanghART through June 20.

The work "stars" legendary screen siren Maggie Cheung as the sea goddess Mazu worshipped by fishermen in southeastern China's Fujian Province, home of the immigrants who died in north England.

The deaths prompted exploration of issues that drive migration around the world.

The installation also features rising star Zhao Tao, the only female protagonist in Jia Zhangke's films, who appears here as a mirror of the goddess. She guides viewers through Chinese cinema and re-enacted scenes of the 1934 classic "The Goddess" about Mazu. She also explores old and modern Shanghai.

This is the first solo exhibition for a Western artist by ShanghART, noted for its discovery of Chinese contemporary art stars.

Conceived and made over three years, "Ten Thousand Waves" is Julien's collaboration with some of China's leading artistic voices. In addition to Cheung and Zhao, there are also poet Wang Ping, calligrapher Gong Fagen, filmmaker Yang Fudong, acclaimed cinematographer Zhao Xiaoshi and 100 other creators and crew.

Julien, noted for both films and installation art, incorporates different disciplines, drawing from film, dance, photography, music, theater, painting and sculpture, and unites them in audio visual movie installations.

He says he was inspired by the Morecambe Bay tragedy and decided to explore the history of fishermen in Fujian Province, which in turn led him into Chinese culture and the forces that drove the Chinese migrants to England to harvest shellfish.

"In response, I commissioned poet Wang Ping to write 'Small Boats,' a poem recited in the work ('Ten Thousand Waves')," he says.

In the following years, Julien spent time in China slowly coming to understand the country and its people and relationships that enabled him to create the rich and multifaceted work.

The video installation was filmed on location in spectacular Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Shanghai Film Studios and sites around Shanghai.

"It is a rare opportunity for Julien's exposure in the city," says Helen Zhu of ShanghART. "His fame and influence on the art community is so strong."

Date: through June 20, 1pm-6pm

Address: ShanghART H-Space, Bldg 18, 50 Moganshan Rd


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