- 22 February 2003 - 27 April 2003
Baltimore was commissioned especially for the opening of FACT. This new three screen DVD installation, produced by one of the world’s leading artists working in film, uses the interiors of museum spaces in the city of Baltimore and the stylistic excesses of blaxploitation movies. Isaac Julien's film installations can be looked at as spectacular explorations of popular mythology, history, race and high culture.
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Baltimore, his latest installation, made specially for the launch of FACT combines all of these elements in one of the most ambitious and expansive projects of the artist's career.
Shot on 16mm film in Baltimore itself, Julien uses three of the city's most fascinating museum environments (The Walters Art Gallery Renaissance Museum, The Peabody Museum and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum) as sets. This process continues and extends his exploration of the histories and inner life of museum spaces found in much of his recent installation work, including Vagabondia (2000) and Three (1999). However, the key inspiration for Baltimore is Baadasssss Cinema, a documentary re-examining the legacy of blaxploitation movies that Julien made for the Independent TV Channel in the US in 2002.
Blaxploitation was a term first coined in the early seventies in the US to describe a number of action films largely made or produced by black actors or directors. Melvin Van Peebles, who stars along with Vanessa Myrie in Baltimore, produced on of the genre's signature works. He wrote, produced, directed, scored, edited and acted in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, an uncompromising take on contemporary black experience, liberally sprinkled with what many saw - at the time - as negative stereotypes of black people (pimps, pushers and prostitutes). The film was nevertheless pivotal in defining the stylistic excesses and key characteristics of the only film genre that directly addressed black audiences. It has subsequently achieved something of a cult status.
Despite the presence of Melvin Van Peebles Baltimore is not a blaxploitation project. Rather it appropriates the styles, gestures, language and iconography of blaxploitation films to create a new work that defies easy categorisation. Julien has been consistently interested in breaking down barriers between different disciplines and genres and Baltimore, like so many of his other films, combines fictional narratives with documentary and film-art techniques. Excavating the common ground between art and cinema, Baltimore draws on two distinct archives, that of the museum and that of the cinema and in doing so, asks the audience to consider a more complex reading of the terms high art and popular culture.
Baltimore was co-commissioned by the Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, the Walters Art Museum, and FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology), in association with The Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore and Eyebeam Atelier, New York. The project has been funded by Artadia, FACT, Toby Lewis, the National Endowment for the Arts, Peter Norton Family Foundation and Linda Pace. Presented in association with the Victoria Miro Gallery.