Better Life (Ten Thousand Waves)

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Yishan Island, Voyage (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010 Endura Ultra Photograph 120 X 160 Cm © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Yishan Island, Long March (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010 Endura Ultra Photograph 180 X 240 Cm © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Maiden of Silence (Ten Thousand Waves) , 2010 Endura Ultra Photograph 180 X 240 Cm © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Better Life (Ten Thousand Waves)

Prinsengracht 282
1016 HJ Amsterdam
September 8th, 2012 - October 20th, 2012
Opening: September 8th, 2012 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM

+31 20 3207036
Wed-Sat 12-6
photography, video-art


Galerie Ron Mandos is delighted to announce our season opening show BETTER LIFE (TEN THOUSAND WAVES) with highly acclaimed British artist Isaac Julien. On show will be the TEN THOUSAND WAVES photographic series as well as the single screen video THE LEOPARD.

In conjunction with BETTER LIFE (TEN THOUSAND WAVES), Isaac Julien’s spectacular 9 screen video installation TEN THOUSAND WAVES will be on show in EXPANDED CINEMA, an exhibition with fellow artists Fiona Tan and Yang Fudong opening on the 28th of September at the new Eye Film Museum, Amsterdam.


TEN THOUSAND WAVES (photographic series)

Isaac Julien’s TEN THOUSAND WAVES is a 9-screen installation shot on location in China. The work poetically weaves together stories linking China’s ancient past and present. Through an architectural installation, the work explores the movement of people across countries and continents and meditates on unfinished journeys.

Conceived and made over four years, TEN THOUSAND WAVES sees Julien collaborating with some of China’s leading artistic voices, including: the legendary siren of Chinese cinema Maggie Cheung; rising star of Chinese film Zhao Tao; poet Wang Ping; master calligrapher Gong Fagen; artist Yang Fudong; acclaimed cinematographer Zhao Xiaoshi; and a 100-strong Chinese cast and crew. The film’s original musical score is by fellow East Londoner Jah Wobble and The Chinese Dub Orchestra and contemporary classical composer Maria de Alvear.

Filmed on location in the ravishing and remote Guangxi province and at the famous Shanghai Film Studios and various sites around Shanghai, TEN THOUSAND WAVES combines fact, fiction and film essay genres against a background of Chinese history, legend and landscape to create a meditation on global human migrations. Through formal experimentation and a series of unique collaborations, Julien seeks to engage with Chinese culture through contemporary events, ancient myths and artistic practice.

The original inspiration for TEN THOUSAND WAVES was the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004, in which 23 Chinese cockle-pickers died. In response to this event, Julien commissioned the poet Wang Ping to come to England and write Small Boats, a poem that is recited in the work. In the successive years, Julien has spent time in China slowly coming to understand the country and its people’s perspectives and developing the relationships that have enabled him to undertake this rich and multifaceted work.

Through conversations with academics, curators and artists both in China and the UK, Julien uncovered a symbolic body of material which he has used to create a work that explores modern and traditional Chinese values and superstitions. These are encapsulated in a fable about the goddess Mazu (played by Maggie Cheung) that comes from Fujian Province, from where the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers originated. The Tale of Yishan Island tells the tale of 16th Century fishermen lost and in danger at sea. At the heart of the legend is the goddess figure who leads the fishermen to safety. Using this fable as a starting point Julien deftly draws on this story and the poignant connection between it and the 21st Century tragedy of Chinese migrants who died struggling to survive in the North of England.

Following ideas surrounding death, spiritual displacement, and the uniquely Chinese connection with “ghosts” or “lost souls”, the film links the Shanghai of the past and present, symbolising the Chinese transition towards modernity, aspiration and affluence. Here, Julien employs the visual language of ghost stories, with recurrent figures and images appearing and disappearing. Mazu’s spectral figure traverses time and space, serving as a guide through the interlocking strands of the work. Mirroring the goddess of the fable, a ghostly protagonist (Zhao Tao) leads us through the world of Shanghai cinema via the Shanghai Film Studio, to a restaging by Julien of scenes from the classic Chinese film The Goddess (1934), and finally to the streets of Modern and Old Shanghai.

Isaac Julien is as equally acclaimed for his fluent, arresting films as his vibrant and inventive gallery installations. TEN THOUSAND WAVES is his most ambitious project to date with the nine-screen installation forming a dynamic structure which choreographs the viewers experience of the multiple narratives. Julien deploys the visual and aural textures of the film to elicit a visceral response from the viewer, submerging them in the world of his making. 


Isaac Julien’s THE LEOPARD is an exclusive single-screen reworking of his celebrated 2007
installation WESTERN UNION: Small Boats.

This film takes its title and visual starting point from Visconti’s masterpiece The Leopard, looking at a cinematic afterlife, haunted by characters from other places and other films. Vanessa Myrie wanders lost through the rooms of Visconti’s palazzo. the interiors, once opulent and luxurious, are now abandoned, echoing with the ghosts of decadence and grandeur and resonant with the new Sicilian history of migration.

Exploring similar themes of voyages, excursions and expeditions to the TEN THOUSAND WAVES project, Isaac Julien’s 2007 multi-screen installation WESTERN UNION: small boats was produced at a time of debate about immigration policies and the relations between the individual and the geopolitical. THE LEOPARD is a newly edited cinema version of the work that seeks to re-engage with these ongoing issues, humanising and lending poetic qualities, image and voice once again to questions, which so often get lost amidst the noise of political agendas.

Internationally renowned choreographer Russell Maliphant has choreographed a series of vignettes in several locations, utilising dance and the movement of bodies, echoing these journeys but also rearticulating them.

Artists talk: Thursday 18 October (in conversation with Hendrik Folkerts at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam)